a new low in topical enlightenment

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Issue #91 (March 30, 2011)

Promontory, Glendale, California

Photo by Chris Collins

Forest Road, Wyoming

Photo by Joe Carducci

Hirundo Angolensis by James Fotopoulos

From the Desk of Joe Carducci…

Tim Arango in NYT, "Ready or Not, Iraq Ascends to Take Helm of Arab Bloc".

“After Libya was suspended from the Arab League last month, de facto leadership ended up coincidentally in the hands of Iraq, the Arab nation with the most experience — much of it painful — with a foreign-led military campaign against an unpopular dictator. For all of that still unsettled pain, the foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari — in his new capacity as head of the Arab League — rushed off to Paris last Friday evening to join Western and Arab allies, where he argued passionately in favor of action against Libya, citing the American no-fly zone in northern Iraq that protected the Kurdish population from Saddam Hussein in the years before the American invasion here, according to a senior official who took part in the Paris deliberations. And soon, Iraqi leaders, who are facing their own protest movement, plan to use their own troublesome democracy, still bloody and inchoate, as a showcase for Middle East countries. Iraq is taking on a larger diplomatic role in regional affairs as host of the group’s annual summit meeting — while assuming the rotating presidency of the league — in May. ‘If there’s a political message, it’s that Iraq is back to play a major and positive role in the Arab region,’ said Labid Abawi, the deputy foreign minister who has led a committee to prepare Baghdad for the summit meeting. ‘We take pride in that Iraq has already exceeded all these other Arab countries in establishing a democratic regime,’ he said. ‘Now, we can say yes, we are on the right track, and other Arab countries can follow suit in establishing a democratic regime.’ Before the democratic uprisings across the Middle East, the summit meeting had already been seen as an occasion of national pride. Now it represents something larger — an opportunity, Iraqi leaders say, to showcase its fragile democracy. Some Iraqi diplomats envision emerging from the meeting with a so-called ‘Baghdad Declaration,’ a statement that would define the principles of modern Middle Eastern democracy.”


Christopher Hitchens at Slate.com, "The Iraq Effect".

“The most heartening single image of the past month — eclipsing even the bravery and dignity of the civilian fighters against despotism in Syria and Libya — was the sight of Hoshyar Zebari arriving in Paris to call for strong action against the depraved regime of Col. Muammar Qaddafi. Here was the foreign minister of Iraq, and the new head of the Arab League, helping to tilt the whole axis of local diplomacy against one-man rule. In May, Iraq will act as host to the Arab League summit, and it will be distinctly amusing and highly instructive to see which Arab leaders have the courage, or even the ability, to leave their own capitals and attend. The whole scene is especially gratifying for those of us who remember Zebari as the dedicated exile militant that he was 10 years ago, striving to defend his dispossessed people from the effects of Saddam Hussein's chemical weapons. Can anyone imagine how the Arab spring would have played out if a keystone Arab state, oil-rich and heavily armed with a track record of intervention in its neighbors' affairs and a history of all-out mass repression against its own civilians, were still the private property of a sadistic crime family?”


Steve Coll in New Yorker, "The Casbah Coalition".

“Ghannouchi was a factotum of the old regime, and even if he was, as he assured the public, only an interim leader, the Casbah protesters regarded the Tunisian revolution as woefully incomplete. The demonstrators had turned the façade of Ghannouchi‘s office into a mural where people could spray graffiti or write on sheets of paper in colored ink. The walls displayed caricatures, political cartoons, a blown-up Facebook page that showed how to join the revolution online, and handwritten signs in Arabic, French, and English. One sign read, ‘Dear Our Government… Get Lost!’ Another observed, ‘Revolutions Never Go Backwards.’ Several images pasted on the wall depicted Mr. Burns, the fictional nuclear power plant owner on ‘The Simpsons,’ to whom Ghannouchi bears an unfortunate resemblance.”


Simon Sebag Montefiore in NYT, "Every Revolution Is Revolutionary in Its Own Way".

“Often temporary leaders arise — think of Aleksandr Kerensky, the strutting Russian prime minister for some months before the Bolsheviks seized power — but every revolution has its figures who provide fig leafs for the hard men. Khomeini appointed Mehdi Bazargan, a democrat, as his prime minister, who ended up resigning during the hostage crisis. The fiesta does not last long. The disorder, uncertainty and strife of a revolution make citizens yearn for stable authority, or they turn to radicalism. Certainly, extremists welcome this deterioration, as Lenin, that laconic dean of the university of revolutionology, expressed it with the slogan: ‘The worse, the better.’ (At that point, extreme solutions become more palatable: ‘How can one make a revolution without firing squads?’ asked Lenin.) At this stage, leadership becomes vital: Lenin personally drove the Bolshevik coup in October 1917. Khomeini was decisive in creating a Shiite theocracy in Iran in 1979 just as Nelson Mandela ensured a peaceful transition in South Africa. But there are no clear opposition leaders in Libya, Yemen or Syria: a ruthless security apparatus has long since decimated any such candidates.”


Bat Ye’or interview at Tundratabloids.com, "The Brotherhood wants to Islamize modernity, not to modernize Islam".

“Europe and the rest of the world are looking at Egypt with greater attention, well aware that there is a conflict of civilizations which we also feel in our own countries. Could this eventually make the situation better for the Egyptian minorities?

It’s hard to say. Europe has long ignored the persecution of indigenous, non-Muslim minorities, and claimed it was Israel’s fault if Muslims persecuted Christians. European leaders are now required to give the Christians some attention, for the European public has become aware of what’s going on. The topic was discussed elsewhere on the Internet long before the media got hold of it; it appeared to have been a kind of secret for decades. When I started writing about it, I was heavily criticized, even libelled. The problem is above all that the Christians in Muslim countries are now acting as hostages. If there is a perception that the West is trying to protect them, it will lead to even more attacks from fanatics. The West has long had a compliant and servile attitude towards the Muslim world, and it will not be easy to show any muscle now. This has also helped to turn Europe into Eurabia. By betraying Israel, one has betrayed Europe. Neither the Obama administration or the political class we have in Europe at the moment can enforce a new, tougher policy. What is needed is an alliance with Muslim forces who reject the Islamic fundamentalism and who will allow minorities religious and national rights to equality and autonomy, and who will accept pluralism in a Middle East which has been colonized by Islam and jihadism. These are the prerequisites for global peace.”


Ilene Prusher in CSM, "Why foreign women are seen as fair game".

“I don’t know if early journalism pioneers like Nelly Bly and Martha Gellhorn – or Edith Lederer and the other women who covered the Vietnam War – experienced the kind of threats and challenges that women of our generation face, but I feel thankful for the trail they blazed. By the time I was covering Afghanistan and Iraq for this newspaper, as I did between 2001 and 2005, I looked around and noted with great satisfaction that about half of the correspondents covering the story were women. The arrival of women in what was once seen as a boys’ bastion, however, is not necessarily matched or welcomed in the places we cover. There are swaths of the globe that are not in sync with the post-feminist realities of the West, though perhaps the dissatisfaction with that lag is one factor fueling the fires of revolution. In almost every place where the Arab Spring has sprung, one can find women (and enlightened men) pushing for change. But this longing for liberation still mingles with a disdain for liberal values that we Western women represent. When working in Afghanistan and Iraq, I would sometimes try to travel under the radar screen by dressing vaguely local – or at least covering my hair with a scarf. It worked, and luckily, I was almost never harassed. I remember seeing a Lebanese colleague in the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, who promptly demanded to know what I was doing walking around with my hair covered. For her, a secular Muslim, not bowing to religious dress codes was a point of defiance against oppression. For me, it was just about wanting to stay safe.”


Gideon Rachman in FT, "Libya, a last hurrah for the west".

“It would be nice to believe that the doctrine of a ‘responsibility to protect’, known colloquially as R2P, now has real bite. With rebel troops advancing swiftly along the Libyan coast, the supporters of the intervention will be feeling cheerful. But the reality is that the Libyan war is more likely to mark a last hurrah for liberal interventionism than a new dawn. For the brutal truth is that the western powers that are the keenest promoters of the idea will not have the economic strength or the public backing to sustain many more overseas interventions. And the rising economic powers -- China, India, Brazil and others -- are deeply skeptical about the whole concept.”


David Rieff in New Republic, "The Road to Hell".

“It is tempting to say that what is taking place here is some sort of Freudian ‘return of the repressed.’ But in reality, the infatuation of liberal elites in the West with humanitarian war was barely shaken by Iraq. Many of the same activists who either opposed the Iraq invasion from the beginning, or soon recanted their support for it, campaigned ardently for a military intervention in Darfur. The problem, it seemed, was not with the idea of regime change, which to be successful would have required regime change in Khartoum, even if most of the leaders of Save Darfur in the United States and SOS Darfour in Western Europe denied it, but with regime changed when practiced by George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Paul Wolfowitz. And now, some of those liberal interventionists are in positions of power, whether formal or informal. Two of the most prominent among those who called for Western military action in Darfur played crucial roles in persuading their respective governments to start bombing in Libya. Grotesque as it may sound, though he held no government appointment, Bernard-Henri Levy played a greater role in France’s decision to spearhead the bombing campaign, which involved at least one instance of French aircraft flying close air support for a rebel column, than did the foreign minister, Alain Juppe. Samantha Power, whose book, A Problem From Hell, about the failure of the United States to prevent or halt genocide in the twentieth century, has been the touchstone for American liberal interventionists since its publication (it was a favorite of the late Richard Holbrooke), is in government, where, to give her her due, she will finally be in position to help put these ideas into practice.”


Fouad Ajami in WSJ, "Obama’s Holbrooke Moment".

“This would be an American rescue mission, with a difference: We would not take the lead, we would defer to France and Britain, and we would let it be known ahead of time that we are not eager to assume a bigger burden in that North African country. This was a break with the record of American rescue missions in other Islamic settings—Kuwait in 1991, Bosnia in 1995, Kosovo in 1999, Afghanistan in 2001, Iraq in 2003. In all of these previous endeavors, it was America that supplied the will and the sense of moral and strategic urgency. But President Obama came to this Libyan engagement imbued by a curious doctrine of American guilt. By his light, we are an imperialistic power, and our embrace would sully those we would seek to help. Middle Eastern rulers and oppositionists alike had come to an unsentimental reading of Mr. Obama: He was no friend of liberty, he had made peace with the order of power in Arab-Islamic lands. Nothing had remained of that false moment of intimacy, in June 2009, when he had traveled to Cairo, the self-styled herald of a new American message to the Arab world. No, what mattered to Mr. Obama, above all, was his differentness, his break with the legacy of George W. Bush. The irony was lost on the liberal devotees of Mr. Obama: a conservative American president who had taken up the cause of liberty in Arab-Islamic lands, and his New Age successor who was nothing but a retread of Brent Scowcroft.”


Robert Kaplan in WSJ, "The Middle East Crisis Has Just Begun".

“Yemen, strategically located on the Gulf of Aden, as well as the demographic core of the Arabian Peninsula and a haunt of al Qaeda, is more important to American interests than Libya. In Yemen, too, a longtime ruler, Ali Abdullah Saleh, has shot protesters in the street to keep order. Yemen constitutes the most armed populace in the world, with almost four times as many firearms as people. It is fast running out of ground water, and the median age of the population is 17. This is to say nothing of the geographical, political and sectarian divisions in the sprawling, mountainous country. However badly Mr. Saleh has ruled Yemen, more chaos may follow him. Coverage by Al Jazeera can help to overthrow a government like his, but it can't help to organize new governments.”


Michiko Kakutani in NYT on Toby Wilkinson’s book, The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt.

“In fact this book draws a sobering portrait of what daily life was like for ordinary Egyptians. Foot soldiers (who actually fought barefoot) were subject to frequent beatings and had to subsist on meager rations, which were supposed to be supplemented ‘by foraging and stealing.’ And peasants, who did not have access to the doctors and dentists available to the wealthy, suffered from a range of debilitating diseases like tuberculosis and parasitical infections. To make matters worse, high taxes, the uncertain nature of agriculture in the Nile Valley (either too much water or too little) and the constant threat of famine combined to make daily life feel perennially precarious. Small wonder, then, Mr. Wilkinson says, that fervent belief in an afterlife — once largely the preserve of the ruling class, who regarded mummification and pyramids as vehicles for overcoming death — spread gradually to the population at large. The nature of an afterlife changed too. Whereas the wealthy, Mr. Wilkinson writes, ‘had been content to look forward to an afterlife that was essentially a continuation of earthly existence,’ Egyptians increasingly came to hope for ‘something better in the next world,’ to believe in the idea of ‘transfiguration and transformation’ — an idea that ‘would echo through later civilizations and ultimately shape the Judeo-Christian tradition.’”


Farhat Taj in Daily Times, "An ignorant friend".

“From a security point of view, FATA has never been an ungovernable territory since Pakistan came into being. It has always been under the control of the intelligence agencies of Pakistan. This is especially so since the ISI-CIA sponsored jihad in Afghanistan. Did the ISI and CIA operate their entire jihad against the Russians in Afghanistan from an ungovernable space? Were the Soviets so foolish that they could not destroy jihadi bases in an ungovernable space? FATA is governable but the military establishment of Pakistan is deliberately projecting it as an ‘ungovernable wild west’ to the world because it needs the area for strategic games vis-à-vis India in Afghanistan. Does the writer have any idea about the pro-Islamism activities from the offices of political agents in FATA under the direction of the ISI? May I ask Saleem Ali why the Political Parties Act of Pakistan has not been extended to the area? President Zardari announced the promulgation of the act in FATA in 2009. Who is resisting a formal notification in this regard? Is it the people of FATA or is it the GHQ in Rawalpindi that is so averse to any idea of Pakhtun nationalist political parties operating in the area due to its eternal fear of Pakhtun nationalism?”


Liz Gooch in NYT, "In Malaysia, Shiites Struggle to Practice Their Faith".

“The Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but when it comes to Islam, the country’s official religion, only the Sunni sect is permitted. Other forms, including Shiite Islam, are considered deviant and are not allowed to be spread. Mr. Mohammad was one of 130 Shiites detained by the religious authorities in December as they observed Ashura, the Shiite holy day commemorating the death of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Ali, in their prayer room in an outer suburb of Kuala Lumpur. There are no official figures on the number of Shiites in Malaysia, but Shiite leaders estimate that there could be as many as 40,000, many of whom practice their faith secretly. While sectarian divisions are associated more with countries such as Iraq and Pakistan, Islamic experts say Malaysia is a rare example of a Muslim-majority country where the Shiite sect is banned.”


Raymond Ibrahim at Meforum.org, "Muslim Jihad in Christian Ethiopia".

“Muslims are an otherwise peaceable minority group in Ethiopia, but in enclaves where they represent the majority, they attack their outnumbered Christian countrymen — giving them a tweaked version of Islam's three choices to infidels — suggests that Muslim aggression and passivity are very much rooted in numbers: the more Muslims, the more potential for ‘assertive’ behavior. This has lessons for the West, especially Europe, which in recent years has seen an unprecedented influx of Muslim immigrants, reaching some 53 million, a number expected to ‘nearly double by 2015, while the non-Muslim will shrink by 3.5%,’ due to higher Muslim birth rates. In short, it is a matter of time before Muslims account for significant numbers in Europe — perhaps not the majority, but, as the Ethiopian example establishes, a majority is not necessary for the winds of jihad to blow. Indeed, the story of Islam's entry into Ethiopia, one of the oldest Christian civilizations, is illustrative. Around 615, when the pagan Quraysh were persecuting Muhammad's outnumbered Muslim followers in Arabia, some fled to Ethiopia seeking sanctuary. The Christian king, or ‘Negus’ of Ethiopia, welcomed and protected these Muslim fugitives, ignoring Quraysh demands to return them—and thus winning Muhammad's gratefulness. Today, 14 centuries later, when Islam has carved itself a solid niche in Ethiopia, accounting for 1/3 of the population, Muslim gratefulness has turned to something else—not least a warning to Western states.”


Oliver Kamm in Prospect, "Japan will recover".

“Japan’s response to disaster indicates less an enduring characteristic of human nature than the self-correcting nature of a democratic society. For all its political stasis and economic stagnation in the past two decades, Japan has an essential strength born of the democratic culture it developed after 1945. The most destructive earthquake experienced by Japan during the 20th century was the Kanto earthquake of 1923. The tremor was of comparable magnitude to the recent one, and it too generated huge tidal waves. The death toll was more than 100,000. Most of the victims died in firestorms, but xenophobic violence claimed many lives too. The day after the quake, the government declared martial law. Far from pacifying a panicked populace, this galvanised vigilantes into terrorising the Korean minority. Some of the military and police joined in crimes of torture and massacre, and an estimated 6,000 to 8,000 Koreans, mainly migrant workers, were murdered. At the time, Japan was attempting to build a democracy and open economy. The atrocities were evidence of the fragility of that culture, and its vulnerability to the extremist currents to come in the next decade.”


John Bussey in WSJ, "Japan Will Rebuild, Then Face Other Tests".

“Sometimes, too, cohesion is just another word for insularity or even self-dealing. Japan's vast national bureaucracy is a case in point. Decades of single-party rule stunted the nation's political development. That left the bureaucrats to run the country. The revolving door separating Japan's regulators from the industries they regulate is well oiled and much used. Senior bureaucrats generally expect a lucrative retirement post in the private sector. The effect is predictable: Banks in Japan ran amok in the 1980s and 1990s in part because they were sometimes run by ex-officials from the Ministry of Finance and central bank, whose former subordinates had moved up in the regulatory bodies. In Japan, where rank is highly respected, the ties continued to bind: The new regulators had trouble confronting their former bosses, even when the banks teetered. The practice is called amakudari, and it means ‘descent from heaven.’ Several former officials from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which regulates the nuclear industry, have enjoyed private-sector salaries at the #Tokyo Electric Power Co. One is Toru Ishida, the former director general of METI, who left the agency last year and a few months later joined the utility.”


Jamil Anderlini in FT, "China’s opaque ways of finding new leaders are threat to reform".

“In 2002, as per Deng’s instructions, the current president, Hu Jintao, took the reins on the understanding that he would only stay for two five-year terms. But next year the party will attempt to carry out the first orderly and peaceful power transition since the Communist victory in 1949 that has not been predetermined by a dead emperor…. Future leaders are now chosen by a couple of hundred people instead of a handful of party elders and most of today’s power brokers are patrons for powerful economic interests. That means the current leaders must not offend too many special interests if they hope to get their people to succeed them. The problem is it also means that the political and economic reforms necessary to keep China stable and growing are increasingly being delayed or watered down.”


Martin Wolf in FT, "How China should rule the world".

“As the world’s rising trading power, China is the natural successor of the US as guardian of the open trading system. It is important, for this reason, that China abide by all the rules and principles of the system and play an important part in developing it further. China should play a role in bringing the interminable Doha round to some sort of conclusion. It has a rising interest in protecting its own intellectual property and, for this reason, a matching interest in ensuring its own adherence to these rules. China also has a strong interest in protecting its growing direct investments abroad. For this reason, it should promote rules on protection of foreign direct investment. Finally, as global trader, China has a strong interest in ensuring that the regional trade arrangements it creates, or joins, are compatible with the global rules.”


Bao Daozu in China Daily, "Top legislator warns of chaos".

“The country's top legislator on Thursday warned of a possible ‘abyss of internal disorder’ if China strays from the ‘correct political orientation’. China will never adopt a multiparty revolving-door system or other Western-style political models, Wu Bangguo, chairman of the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee, said while delivering a work report. The establishment of a socialist law system, with Chinese characteristics, institutionally and legally ensures the country stays on the right path, he told about 3,000 NPC deputies. ‘On the basis of China's conditions, we've made a solemn declaration that we'll not employ a system of multiple parties holding office in rotation,’ he said. He ruled out the possibility of separating executive, legislative and judicial powers, adopting a bicameral or federal system, and said privatization was not under consideration.”


James Lamont in FT, "Auditor warns India of naval shortfalls".

“This will come as a blow to naval planners with targets to launch 100 warships during the next decade as they respond to what they view as a growing threat to maritime supremacy in the Indian Ocean. New Delhi is sensitive to comparisons with China, which has three times the number of combat vessels as India and five times the personnel. But in spite of forecasts that the Indian navy will expand rapidly in the next decade, the auditor’s report said more ships were being decommissioned than were being launched.”


Charles Forelle in WSJ, "A Nation of Dropouts Shakes Europe".

“The state of Portuguese education says a lot about why a rescue is likely to be needed, and why one would be costly and difficult. Put simply, Portugal must generate enough long-term economic growth to pay off its large debts. An unskilled work force makes that hard. Cheap rote labor that once sustained Portugal's textile industry has vanished to Asia. The former Eastern Bloc countries that joined the European Union en masse in 2004 offer lower wages and workers with more schooling. They have sucked skilled jobs away. Just 28% of the Portuguese population between 25 and 64 has completed high school. The figure is 85% in Germany, 91% in the Czech Republic and 89% in the U.S. ‘I don't see how it is going to grow without educating its work force,’ says Pedro Carneiro, an economist at University College London who left Portugal to do his postgraduate studies in the U.S.”


Paul Salopek in The American Scholar on Peter Godwin’s book, The Fear: Robert Mugabe and the Martyrdom of Zimbabwe.

“And as our Dante in Zimbabwe’s hell, Godwin succeeds at capturing the surreality of the regime’s workaday brand of repression. A musty anti-colonialist in Saville Row suits, Mugabe likes to wrap his cudgel in a veneer of bureaucratic normality. Lawyers defend torture victims in the courts, but judges are arrested when they rule against the government. A policeman berates Godwin for blocking traffic, then goes back to cracking women’s and children’s skulls with his stave. And two Anglican bishops — one legitimate, the other a pro-Mugabe usurper — duel, prissily, with their ceremonial crosiers inside a sedate Harare cathedral. It’s government as cargo cult. Behind the cello­phane-thin trappings of state lies the rot of infantilizing patronage — from luxury Mercedes Benzes for bigwigs to crisp $100 bills for loyal soldiers.”


Christopher Caldwell in FT, "Teach History Warts and All".

“To treat the deeds of the 19th-century abolitionist Sojourner Truth in greater detail than those of George Washington, which is the inevitable end-result of a dedicated month, is to perpetrate a distortion. But as memory, Black History Month has been a striking success. Children, and not just black children, quite like it. The reasons are paradoxical. Probably no pedagogical innovation was ever carried out for reasons more political, but Black History Month is the least politically correct corner of the grade-school history curriculum. You always know who the good guys are in Black History Month and their struggles are taught with an old-fashioned, un-nuanced moralism that makes Our Island Story look like Hamlet. The results are plain to see. In 2008, education professors from Stanford and the University of Maryland released a survey of 2,000 11th- and 12th-graders (high-school leavers) who had been asked to name the 10 most significant Americans, excepting presidents. Three mainstays of Black History Month – Martin Luther King, the anti-segregationist protester Rosa Parks and the escaped slave Harriet Tubman – ranked one, two and three, well ahead of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. By about the age of eight or 10, children should have a simple, logical and non-cynical narrative of their country to carry around for the rest of their lives as a net to catch knowledge in. Non-cynical, because children cannot build such a net if teachers are running down the credibility of what they impart. That is the problem with teaching young people: there is a line on one side of which a teacher’s duty is to promote credulity and on the other side of which it is to promote scepticism. Errors are inevitable. But they will be self-correcting, to some extent. By age 16, students will have as much cynicism and ‘distance’ as any educator could wish.”


George Weigel in First Things, "Communism vs. The Church".

“The Commission for New Martyrs of the Great Jubilee of 2000 concluded that there were likely twice as many martyrs in the twentieth century than in the previous nineteen of Christian history combined. The great majority of these twentieth-century martyrs gave their lives for Christ at the hands of communism. Thanks to the new political situation behind the old Iron Curtain it is now possible to describe this almost-forgotten communist war against Christianity in detail and to unlock some of its once closely held secrets. For this was an undercover war as well as a matter of mass murder… The most brutal communist campaign against the Catholic Church in the immediate post-war period is not so well-known…. It involved the Greek Catholic Church of Ukraine, Byzantine in its liturgy and polity but in full communion with the bishop of Rome. Feared by Stalin as the repository of Ukrainian national consciousness and hated by the leadership of Russian Orthodoxy for their adhesion to Rome, the Greek Catholics were caught in a political-ecclesiastical vise that closed on them with lethal force in 1946, when an illegal Sobor, or church council, was held in L’viv in western Ukraine. Staged by the Soviet secret police with the blessing of Russian Orthodoxy’s Moscow patriarchate, the L’viv Sobor dissolved the 1596 Union of Brest, which had brought Ukrainian Greek Catholics into full communion with Rome, and announced that this local church had been ‘reunited’ with Russian Orthodoxy. In one stroke, four million Ukrainian Greek Catholics who declined ‘reunion’ with Russian Orthodoxy became the largest illegal, and underground, religious body in the world. Thousands of Greek Catholics, including numerous priests and all but two of ten Ukrainian Greek Catholic bishops, died in the Gulag.”


Henrik Bering in WSJ on John Armstrong’s book, In Search of Civilization.

“Mr. Armstrong is firmly on the side of the popularizers. Unlike many intellectuals, who resent any linking of wealth and culture, he sees the two as intimately connected, but they need to be integrated, he says, since wealth by itself does not compel admiration. Thus he looks for ‘the sweet spot where luxury and spiritual prosperity meet.’ In no age was this more the case than in the Renaissance, which went back to classical times for the best in literature, sculpture and architecture and confidently built upon it with the riches of a newly mercantile age. ‘What is striking,’ Mr. Armstrong finds, ‘is how well money was spent.’ Compare this civilizing project with 19th-century France under Napoleon III, all gold and glitter on the surface but rot and wormholes below. Mr. Armstrong is particularly illuminating on decadence, which he defines as ‘defeatism before the consequences of defeat have been felt.’ In the dark cynicism of writers such as Baudelaire or Stendhal Mr. Armstrong sees not so much indolence as a form of fear and despair masquerading as sophistication. It is possible to inherit a great civilization, he implies, without possessing the will to defend its ideals.”


Nick Cohen in Spectator, "The Tory Party’s Secret Weapon".

“The TUC and Labour Party condemned the violence. But they had not warned in advance that yobs would not be welcome on the march because neither is ready for a full confrontation with the fanatics. On the march itself the TUC allowed the SWP to hand out banners and ‘brand’ the demonstration as its own as it called in apparent seriousness for ‘a general strike now’. The folly of ignoring or indulging the far left becomes apparent as soon as you realise that the similarities between the SWP and the BNP are more important than the differences. Both are hysterical totalitarian organisations that love vicious rhetoric and promote anti-Semites. The left wing press and the BBC will never acknowledge the overlap between fascism and communism, because they fear accusations of ‘betrayal,’ and have a mental block that prevents them accepting that evil resides on the left as well as the right of British politics. As a point of contrast, imagine how they would react if the BNP hijacked a Countryside Alliance march. The Today programme would have had a nervous breakdown on live radio.”


Nicholas Confessore in NYT, "In Budget Fight, an Albany Titan Is Suddenly Overshadowed".

“In years past, Mr. Silver deployed his own well-worn playbook, famous for his gnomic utterances, his refusal to commit to positions in advance and his willingness to wait out governors until they were desperate for a deal, any deal. A close alliance with powerful labor unions, particularly teachers and health care workers, provided Assembly Democrats an effective and well-financed political communications arm in their battles with the governor. An impregnable majority — Assembly Democrats control roughly two-thirds of the chamber’s 150 seats — helped insulate them from any political tides that roiled national and state politics. But those strengths proved less useful against a popular and aggressive governor buoyed by ever-rising public anger against Albany and constrained by the stark reality of the state’s dire finances.”


NYT: "N.Y.C. vs. N.Y.S., the Pension Battle".

“The city negotiates wages and health benefits directly with its employees’ unions. But since the 1970s fiscal crisis — when Albany took over the city’s finances — the State Legislature and the governor have dealt with the city’s pension benefits. The way it usually works, the mayor negotiates a pension deal, which state lawmakers approve and then later ‘sweeten’ for their friends in the unions. Albany is notoriously compliant when it comes to demands from the powerful unions that represent the state’s public employees, which is one of the reasons the state is in such deep fiscal trouble. Legislators have been even more generous to city employees because the city, not the state, pays for their generosity. Unless New York City gets relief, the spiraling pension burden will cripple the city’s finances for years to come. The city’s contributions to the pension fund — for 293,000 employees and about 235,000 retirees — have risen from $1.5 billion in 2001 to an estimated $8.4 billion next year. Payouts to retirees have nearly doubled from $6.6 billion in 2002 to more than $11 billion this year.”


Fran Spielman in CST, "Rahm Emanuel considers cutting City Council seats in half".

“If Emanuel decides to seriously pursue the idea of a smaller City Council — instead of tinkering at the margins by shrinking the roster of committees — he could find an ally in Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th). Twice in the last 16 years, Burke has called the 50-member Council unwieldy, unproductive and unnecessary and proposed cutting it in half to save taxpayers $10 million a year. ‘We are now one of the largest city councils in the country,’ Burke said in 2002. ‘New York has 51. We have 50. Reduced operating expenses would be the principal benefit. But a smaller council would also be more responsive to the voter. They’ve have more constituents. But they’d be more easily identified.’ Ald. Howard Brookins (21st) strongly disagrees, stating, ‘In most cities, people don’t go to their alderman for anything. In Chicago, people go to their alderman first for every damned thing — and they expect results.’”


Ira Stoll at Futureofcapitalism.com, "The “Cannibalization” of Entrepreneurship".

“The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a non-profit that supports entrepreneurship, has a new report out by Paul Kedrosky and Dane Stangler headlined ‘Financialization and Its Entrepreneurial Consequences.’ According to the foundation's press release about the study, the growing size of the financial industry in America ‘potentially suppressed entrepreneurship.’ The release quotes Mr. Kedrosky as saying that the financial companies were hiring people who otherwise might have started their own companies. ‘The financial services industry's steady rise has had a cannibalizing effect on entrepreneurship in the U.S. economy,’ he is quoted as saying. ‘Excessive financialization exacerbated and distorted the flow of capital in the economy, potentially suppressing entrepreneurship by drawing away entrepreneurial talent.’ The same release quotes Mr. Stangler as saying that ‘An excessively dominant financial sector may have made it easier for weaker (or potentially weaker) companies to obtain financing, thus helping to maintain that steady rate of entrepreneurship but possibly contributing to the declining quality of newly established businesses.’ The use of words like ‘may have,’ ‘possibly,’ and ‘potentially’ gives a clue to how confident one can be of the claims in the study. Answer: not very.”


Ira Stoll at Futureofcapitalism.com, "How Government Grows".

“This case of the lone air traffic controller falling asleep during the overnight shift at Reagan National Airport near Washington, D.C. is a perfect example of how the size and cost of government grow. The transportation secretary, Ray LaHood, a Republican, has responded by directing, as the New York Times reports it, ‘that a second controller be on duty during the overnight shift at the Washington airport.’ Am I the only one to see the humor in this? (It's humorous until you have the pay the taxes for it.) In the private sector, you'd fire the guy who fell asleep and replace him with one who will stay awake…. In the government, there is no competition. The Federal Aviation Administration runs the control towers. It doesn't have to worry about being replaced with a competitor. And when one of its employees falls asleep on the job, the reward for the FAA is that its number of staff and budget for the job (a rough Washington equivalent to power) double. The reward for failure in a bureaucracy is that the agency's budget and staff increase.”


Robert Frank in WSJ, "The Price of Taxing the Rich".

“Nearly half of California's income taxes before the recession came from the top 1% of earners: households that took in more than $490,000 a year. High earners, it turns out, have especially volatile incomes — their earnings fell by more than twice as much as the rest of the population's during the recession. When they crashed, they took California's finances down with them. Mr. Williams, a former economic forecaster for the state, spent more than a decade warning state leaders about California's over-dependence on the rich. ‘We created a revenue cliff,’ he said. ‘We built a large part of our government on the state's most unstable income group.’ New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Illinois — states that are the most heavily reliant on the taxes of the wealthy — are now among those with the biggest budget holes. A large population of rich residents was a blessing during the boom, showering states with billions in tax revenue. But it became a curse as their incomes collapsed with financial markets. Arriving at a time of greatly increased public spending, this reversal highlights the dependence of the states on the outsize incomes of the wealthy. The result for state finances and budgets has been extreme volatility.”


FT: "An end to folly and negligence".

“The agency problem has dogged the publicly quoted company since its invention. Adam Smith identified the separation of management and ownership as one of the reasons for the South Sea Company’s collapse in 1720. Given the number of the company’s shareholders, he argued, it was to be expected that ‘folly, negligence and profusion should prevail in the management of their affairs’. Britain’s voluntary stewardship code, launched last year, is the latest attempt to address this. It aims to encourage shareholders in public companies to behave more like owners.”


Washington Post: "Drill, Brazil, drill, says the U.S."

“When was the last time an American president stood before an audience in a foreign country and announced that he looked forward to importing more of its oil? Answer: Just over a week ago, when President Obama joined political and business leaders in Brasilia in hailing the fact that their newly discovered offshore petroleum reserves might be twice as large as those in the United States. Americans ‘want to help with technology and support to develop these oil reserves safely, and when you’re ready to start selling, we want to be one of your best customers,’ Mr. Obama said. Brazil is probably a more stable, secure supplier than, say, Libya. Still, the president’s words were ironic. Brazil already produces vast quantities of a fuel — ethanol — that the U.S. government, under a policy long supported by presidents and farm-state members of Congress from both parties, has promoted as a green alternative to gasoline. But the United States, protecting its own heavily subsidized ethanol industry by means of a 2.5 percent tariff and a 54-cent-per-gallon duty, prevents Americans from importing all but trivial amounts of the stuff from Brazil. Therefore, we need more oil — much of it imported. In Brasilia, Mr. Obama spoke of strengthening U.S.-Brazilian technical cooperation on ethanol but did not propose allowing U.S. protectionist measures to lapse after their scheduled expiration on Dec. 31. As for offshore drilling, Mr. Obama’s enthusiasm for punching holes in the ocean floor off Brazil is hard to reconcile with his decision, announced Dec. 1, to keep the waters off the East and West coasts and the eastern Gulf of Mexico off-limits to exploration indefinitely.”


MercoPress: "Lula da Silva says Latin America’s left is a model for developed countries".

“‘In the last decades the main left wing movements and currents entered a period of crisis. Many were left without political or ideological references’, said Lula da Silva at a packed closed stadium Friday night, next to Uruguay’s President Jose Mujica and his predecessor in the job, Tabare Vazquez (2005/2010). Lula da Silva was the main speaker at the celebration where he emphasized the importance of regional integration and the performance of left wing political groups in the continent which contrasts with what is happening in a developed world in crisis. ‘With us (the Latin American left) it has been different. We never abandoned our political convictions or our commitment to life and peace with the destiny of oppressed peoples’ said the former Brazilian president recalling the four decades of the Uruguayan ruling coalition born 26 March 1971. ‘The left in Brazil and in Uruguay knew how to change, but without changing sides…That is why our government experiences are a reference not only for Latin America but also for other regions of the world’, he remarked although adding that ‘we are not here to teach lessons’.”


Barry Newman in WSJ, "The Lighter Side of Counterfeiting Puts Zippo in a Fix".

“‘It can take a minute to decipher some counterfeits, which is scary,’ said Ms. Woods. She held the lighter in her palm, judging its weight. She removed its insert — the working parts — testing for the famous ‘trombone fit.’ Ms. Woods said, ‘I have suspicions.’ The logo on the case looked fine. The insert drew out smoothly, and it was accurately etched: ‘For best results, use Zippo flints and fuel.’ What was wrong? ‘There's things, and that's all I'm going to tell,’ said Ms. Woods, with a slight, knowing smile. That lighter would be returned, with regrets but no details. Zippo isn't eager to let buyers know how they've been had. Yet for fans who see the Zippo as a monument to American design, like Ray-Bans and the Slinky, the Internet swarms with rippo-phobia.”


Steve Inskeep provided this month’s illustration of the truism that nobody has thinner skin than the news media, those what dish it out full time yet cain’t barely take so much as a rare whiff of complaint from the public they serve. Inskeep is part of the new hosting crew of “Morning Edition” that replaced longtime NPR fixture Bob Edwards a couple years ago. He should have taken his essay to the New York Times because there he’d have had a sympathetic editor who might have advised him to alter the tone here or admit something there. Not that the Times is expert at this in their own cases, especially now that editor Bill Keller is a regular columnist, but they did go on a correction jag and install a readers ombudsman after a faint whiff or two of plagiarism and falsifications that the current regime feels was all Howell Raines’ fault and so the ombuds get beaten like a one-armed stepchild and there’s much turnover in the position -- as if the body of the NYT is rejecting the Public Editor. Inskeep was evidently confident enough to believe he was pulling one over on the wolves at the Wall Street Journal editorial page when they ran his “Liberal Bias at NPR?” with hardly a change. His main point is to wave the almost bloody shirt on behalf of an NPR correspondent in Libya and thereby place his news-gathering organization above reproach. He manages to belittle all recent criticism, the truth of which has essentially been conceded by the resignations of higher-ups. Then he asserts, “NPR’s audience keeps expanding because Americans want more than toxic political attacks. They want news.” He may not bring up the relief from commercials that people enjoy because they essentially have commercials now and by their own anti-corporate logic this makes them bought -- best not bring it up.

Over the years like any commercial station in a growth phase, NPR has gradually added weather, traffic, sports, automotive, food and music coverage because serving its original base audience of sports-hating, bicycle-riding, vegetarian politicos was accomplished decades ago. NPR as it has become a national fixture is necessarily tethered to a listenership that is bigger and less liberal than its staff is, even on its most deeply closeted days, when nary of whiff of dorm-room pothead radicalia can be smelt. The Times has this problem too; can you imagine what a Times that was still merely the paper of Manhattan would be like?

NPR no doubt feels pressure from the BBC’s increasing audibility in the US and though they must feel center-right in comparison to what the BBC gets away with, neither they nor their Fox-loving enemies appreciate that were federal funding to actually be cut entirely, NPR would then quite quickly slide into that chowder-head hectoring arrogance it envies in the BBC but which in the European context it achieves by getting their budget entirely from the state’s dedicated TV set tax.


Dana Jennings in NYT, "Grab a Brew While They Face Death".

“In Episode 1 of ‘Coal’ a miner is criticized by his boss because the night shift isn’t meeting quota. It’s bad enough to be taken to the mat, but it’s a kind of torture to have it done on national television. And these miners aren’t even paid to appear on the show, a Spike spokeswoman said. To be honest, it is fascinating to watch crab being wrenched from the thrashing ocean and coal wrested from beneath an Appalachian mountain. And it’s refreshing to hear working-class men discuss their difficult lives, partly because of their invisible presence in our own. It’s their pride and muscle that help to ferry oil and coal to our furnaces, that put crab on our dinner plates. But these men — in the mine, on the Bering Sea, at Oil Rig 28 — end up as commodified as the natural resources that control their destinies. What does it mean when an ordinary man’s life is transmuted into entertainment? Is a life of quiet desperation somehow ennobled if it’s shown on television? Some shows — including ‘Deadliest Catch’ and ‘Ax Men’ — also have online stores that sell clothing, video games, pint glasses and other memorabilia.

You can even score a Captain Phil tribute T-shirt. The death of Phil Harris, captain of the Cornelia Marie, was chronicled last year on ‘Deadliest Catch,’ spurring record ratings.

‘Coal’ and its rowdy buddies make no bones that they sell a whiff of the grave, that each episode is a potential snuff film.”


Jeff Klein in NYT, "In NHL Regulating Hits to Head Challenges Tradition".

“A poll of Canadian hockey fans by MacLean’s magazine revealed this month that 83 percent support the outlawing of all checks to the head. (And if there is doubt that Canadian fans have gone soft, only 13 percent would outlaw fighting.) Dryden said, however, that today’s traditionalists were unable to conceive of hockey as being hockey if hits to the head were banned. But the faster game has made hockey so dangerous, he said, that change is necessary. ‘What has changed all of this is the shorter shifts,’ Dryden said. ‘If you’re playing for two minutes as people were in the 1960s, you coast and circle and circle, and then when you see an offensive chance off a defensive problem, you burst. In the 1970s, shifts are a minute long, but it’s still a coast-and-burst sort of game; players don’t finish their checks — they peel off and keep looking for the puck. ‘But today, it’s 35 seconds, so the player can go full sprint from the moment he comes over the boards. People skate faster, they’re fitter, they’re 20 pounds heavier, they’ve got hard-shell equipment, and they’re only on for 35 seconds. So you have the enormous force of bodies hitting at full speed. It allows for players to essentially target the guy who has the puck all game long, splattering them against the glass if they have the puck or even if they’ve just released it.’ Adam Gopnik, a writer and editor at the New Yorker and a lifelong Canadiens fan who will speak about the history of hockey at the University of Toronto’s prestigious Massey Lectures this year, traced the resistance to change to hockey’s origins in Montreal. There, he said, English-Canadians, French-Canadians and Irish-Canadians all played their own versions of hockey, making it ‘a clan game, with clan ethics and clan traditions.’ ‘The thing to do for the commercial good of the game is to eliminate fighting and head shots — you’d double the audience, because women would watch,’ Gopnik said. ‘But they’re not able to do it,’ he said, in part because of the traditionalism inherent in what he called ‘Canadian clannism.’”


Douglas Goetsch in The American Scholar, "Baseball’s Loss of Innocence".

“While Lardner was establishing himself as a writer, the sport he covered was undergoing a transformation: from its 19th-century origins as a club sport among the aristocracy to the game of the masses. The phenomenon of a spectator sport of national proportion was new to America. Football would remain secular to collegiate life for decades, and the two other contenders, boxing and horse racing, operated under increasingly strict regulation. By the turn of the 20th century, every major American city had a major league baseball team — New York, St. Louis, Chicago, and Boston each fielded two — and every substantial municipality had a minor league team. The rival National and American Leagues called ‘a truce’ one winter and staged the first ‘World Series’ in 1903. Major league baseball attendance rose steadily, from 3.5 million in 1900 to double that in 1908. That year the New York Giants alone drew nearly a million fans. Attendance rose throughout the 1910s and exceeded nine million in 1920.”


Randolph Scott made almost three Westerns a year through the 1950s, most of which he had a hand in producing as well. He spent his money buying up ranches north of Los Angeles which later became Bob Hope’s spread and later, in small part, the Reagan ranch. He ended his screen career in 1962 appearing with Joel McCrea in the best of the two early classically styled westerns that Sam Peckinpah made, Ride the High Country, though Brian Garfield is probably right to call it both the last of the old and first of the new westerns. But Dave Kehr in his DVD column in the Sunday NYT, "Classic Cowboy Back on the Range", notices what all of us today are tempted to consider a “new” tone in one of Scott’s three westerns from 1950, The Nevadan:

“Produced by Scott with his longtime business partner Harry Joe Brown, The Nevadan finds Scott already developing the wily, strategically mysterious character that would enter film history with the series of sharp, minimalist westerns that he and Brown made with the director Budd Boetticher later in the ’50s. For most of the film’s running time it’s impossible to ascertain Scott’s exact moral or legal status, as he deftly plays an escaped bank robber (Forrest Tucker) against a corrupt banker (George Macready) in pursuit of a horde of stolen cash. Douglas’s characteristically sharp way with violence and Dorothy Malone’s sleepy-eyed self-confidence as the romantic interest lift this pleasant genre piece above the average.”

WWII changed about everything and one can say it introduced a type of “realism” in films through location shooting, documentary-style tropes, improved second-unit action production values and what is now called “noir”. But in truth all of these new developments are revivals of early thirties and late silent styles such as the location feature (Nanook of the North, Grass, The Silent Enemy, Trader Horn, etc.), the realist strain of westerns and gangster films, and German expressionism. And the one credit that stands out to me in The Nevadan, “Additional Dialogue by Rowland Brown”, pulls it right back to early sound-era realism when Brown somehow managed to wear out his welcome after writing-directing three of the better early uses of sound realism when this was rarely done well, either in terms of writing dialogue, directing the actors, or using the technology of recording live sound: Quick Millions (1931), Hell’s Highway (1932), and Blood Money (1933). Brown’s film career began with his script for the gangster film, Doorway to Hell (1930), and though blackballed thereafter as a director he continued writing for interesting-to-excellent films. The Nevadan credit is his penultimate one and only a story credit on Kansas City Confidential (1952) follows, though he lived until 1963.

Kehr had no room for that aspect of this Scott western, but he does his usual good job filling in on cinematographic detail of the production itself and the DVD release:

“[T]he picture was shot in the Cinecolor process, a low-cost alternative to Technicolor that was popular with Poverty Row studios and independent producers. Because Cinecolor went out of business in 1954, most Cinecolor movies now circulate in very poor copies, if they circulate at all. But Sony has managed to create a sharp, clear transfer that brings out the blue-greens and browns that were the most vivid components of the Cinecolor palette, landscape colors that made the process particularly effective for westerns.”


Michael Cieply in NYT, "A Critique of Clint Eastwood’s “J. Edgar” movie".

“Larry Cohen has issues — 17 pages’ worth — with ‘J. Edgar,’ the movie now being shot here by Clint Eastwood for Imagine Entertainment and Warner Brothers with Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role as J. Edgar Hoover. Mr. Cohen is a writer and director who was in the news when his sister, the publicist Ronni Chasen, was murdered last year, and whose film ‘The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover’ was released in 1977 with Broderick Crawford in the lead. He has now compiled a lengthy critique of the new Hoover film, based on his reading of a screenplay by Dustin Lance Black, who won an Oscar for ‘Milk.’ Mr. Cohen’s biggest gripe is what he describes as the film’s portrayal of Hoover, the longtime director of the F.B.I., ‘as a closeted gay man.’ In his critique, which Mr. Cohen said he planned to post online if he could find a proper forum, he acknowledges that Hoover had long been the subject of reports and rumors of cross-dressing and of a hidden sexual relationship with his aide Clyde Tolson (who died in 1975, three years after Hoover). But Mr. Cohen insists that the stories, which made a splash in Anthony Summers’s 1993 biography ‘Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover,’ are not backed up by credible evidence that Hoover was ‘anything but asexual.’ Based on its script, Mr. Eastwood’s movie will dwell heavily on the Lindbergh kidnapping case, in which, by Mr. Cohen’s assessment, Hoover ‘had only the most peripheral involvement.’ And he contends the film makes much of Hoover’s reluctance to pursue the Mafia, but underestimates the positive effect of what he calls a ‘gentleman’s agreement,’ under which Hoover supposedly let crime bosses operate prostitution and gambling rings, as long as they helped to block the narcotics trade.”


Chitralekha Basu in China Daily, "The future is now".

“His concern for the future of China in an increasingly mechanized, competitive and conflicted world remains an overriding one. A ‘staunch nationalist at heart’, Han's anxiety that the Western model of development may not be the best for China runs through almost all that he writes. ‘We want to be as powerful and as developed as the Western societies, but our ethos is different. Fast-track development does not agree with core Asian values,’ he says. ‘Science, technology and modernization are not inherent in Chinese culture. They are like alien entities. If we buy into them, we turn ourselves into monsters, and that's the only way we can get along with Western notions of progress.’ A chronicler of sci-fi writing in China, Han is excited by the freshness of ideas and, sometimes, the profundity of philosophical thought that his juniors in the business - Pan Haitian, who was born in the 1970s and Fei Dao, born in the 1980s - are bringing to the table.”


Overkill flyer history.


Obituaries of the Week

Elizabeth Taylor (1932 - 2011), by Camille Paglia.

“To me, Elizabeth Taylor's importance as an actress was that she represented a kind of womanliness that is now completely impossible to find on the U.S. or U.K. screen. It was rooted in hormonal reality -- the vitality of nature. She was single-handedly a living rebuke to postmodernism and post-structuralism, which maintain that gender is merely a social construct. Let me give you an example. Lisa Cholodenko's ‘The Kids Are All Right’ is a truly wonderful film, but Julianne Moore and Annette Bening -- who is fabulous in it and should have won the Oscar for her portrayal of a prototypical contemporary American career woman -- were painfully scrawny to look at on the screen. This is the standard starvation look that is now projected by Hollywood women stars -- a skeletal, Pilates-honed, anorexic silhouette, which has nothing to do with females as most of the world understands them. There's something almost android about the depictions of women currently being projected by Hollywood.”

Zoogz Rift (1953 - 2011).

“Born Robert Pawlikowski, Zoogz Rift took cues from Beefhart and Zappa to become a sardonic, confrontational vanguard of the new wave fringe. His first album, With No Apparent Reason, was released in 1976; an astounding 38 would follow, including 1979's acclaimed Idiots On The Miniature Golf Course, 1983's Can You Smell My Genitals From Where You’re Standing?, 1986's The Island Of Living Puke, and 1989's Fuck God, Fuck Your Mother, Fuck All Your Bullshit And Fuck You. In keeping with his ‘blue’ image and general disinterest in the mainstream, Rift’s back up band was dubbed the Amazing Shitheads.”

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• The New Vulgate
• Joe Carducci, Chris Collins, James Fotopoulos, Mike Vann Gray, David Lightbourne
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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Issue #90 (March 23, 2011)

Big Hollow Road, Wyoming

Photo by Joe Carducci

2012: A French Odyssey

Le temps des primaires
(Or, France’s Sexiest Socialiste)

By Carolyn Heinze

The elections are coming! The elections are coming! They’re everywhere! They’re everywhere! They’re everywhere, all over, partout . . . At least they’re everywhere en France. Or, at least, they will be: Cue the theme for 2001: A Space Odyssey but pretend it’s 2012 and you’ll maybe kind of catch my drift. (Yeah, I know: Your American elections are in 2012, too, but can’t you just let someone else grab the spotlight for once?)

Poor Nicolas Sarkozy. (No really – this time I mean it, I swear.) (Merde !) (See?) You just know that he’s cursing Chirac. Back in the day, back when he was President – back there over there right there at l’Élysée – one of the first things that Jacques Chirac did was get rid of the septennat. (That’s where you get to be President for seven years.) (For two consecutive terms.) (It’s why it seemed like François Mitterrand was the French President forever.) (Like some dictators and some emperors and some dear leaders and some rois.) I don’t know why, but one of the first things Chirac did was ditch the septennat and replace it with the quinquennat. (Where you only get to be President for five years . . . for two consecutive terms, tops.) I’m guessing it was because unlike other presidents and dictators and emperors and kings, Chirac was going for that all-important work/life balance. You know – that savoir-vivre à la française.

So you just know that Sarko’s sitting there in his big presidential bureau, blustering away about that bastard Chirac. His last election slogan was travailler plus pour gagner plus (work more to earn more), after all – he doesn’t give a rat’s ass about work and life or work or life or, more specifically, work/life balance . . . and he certainly couldn’t give a crap about savoir-vivre or even savoir-faire. I mean, did you see how unabashedly eager he was to hoist his tiny little French derrière up into the biggest chair in the biggest office in the whole entire pays ? Sarko’s not going anywhere – or at least he’ll bluster and fluster and blather away trying to stay. This whole bit about having to campaign after just getting settled in has got to be a pain in the, well…derrière. Or at least a bit of one. (Hey – it’s not easy for such a little guy to clamber up into such a big chair!)

En plus : Sarko’s shaking in his elevator-heels. And no, not because the earth is quaking and non, not because the sea is tsunami-ing . . . and it’s not even because of reactionarily reactive reactors or ferociously fashionable dictators gunning for la guerre. Sarko’s problem? Acronyms. And in France, of those there are a few. (WTF?) (Wait – I’ll explain…ASAP…)

(Weird, isn’t it? That the French – a peuple so predominantly ponderous and partial to the extended, expansive, elongated, elaborately eloquent enunciation of words – would be so obsessed with les acronymes ? I think it has something to do with that all-important word/letter balance. You know, just to keep things équilibrés . . . à la française.)

Sarko’s biggest acronymic affliction? In short: DSK. (That’s Dominique Strauss-Kahn.) DSK represents the PS. (That’s Parti socialiste.) (Which, in the interest of maintaining that all-important word count/letter count balance, we’ll describe as ‘left of center.’) (And for those of you who get nervous when you read the word ‘socialiste,’ don’t worry – I’m not talking about les communistes… I’ll get to them some other time.) Nicolas Sarkozy represents the UMP. (That’s Union pour un mouvement populaire, which, in an effort to maintain that all-important, et caetera, et caetera, we’ll deem ‘right of center.’) (There’s a lot more in between, like in between themselves and their friends and their supporters and their naysayers and their enemies and lovers and wives . . . and mistresses . . . and that’s not counting all of the denominations of all of the other French political parties, Communist and otherwise, of which there are so many I’ve lost count.) So you get it, right? DSK and Sarko? They’re rivals. À la française.

(Don’t you find it strange that Sarkozy has never been assigned an acronym of his own? Just a nickname: ‘Sarko?’ Or is it because when you’re French President, you get to have monikers with more letters that make up a whole word?)

DSK hasn’t announced his intentions for the PS candidature. He can’t, not quite, not yet; he’s currently heading up the FMI. (That’s Fonds monétaire international.) Or IMF. (International Monetary Fund.) But his term there is quickly coming to a close (don’t think it was a quinquennat or a septennat or whatever) and his wife recently went public to proclaim that she didn’t want hubby in New York for another round. (I think I read something about it being because of American beef being stuffed with hormones, but I’m not sure.) (Though hormone-infused beef could explain the whole sexy-scandalous sexy FMI/IMF scandal surrounding DSK and some sexy secretarial subordinate, but that’s another story…) So you get the point: It’s probably pretty probable that for the PS presidential candidature, DSK’s gonna give it a go. For Sarko? C’est la merde.

Because: Dominique Strauss-Kahn is sexy. Not in the American hormone-infused beef-eating kind of way. Not even in the American Obama hubba-hubba-hot kind of way. (I’ve never gotten over that magazine cover of him running around, shirtless, in his swimming trunks.) (You Americans always have to upstage everyone.) DSK is sexy in that sexy kind of way. You know – that sexy kind of way that screams of sex.

Oh sure, he’s a little . . . portly . . . But I can overlook that. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m a girl. And I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but us girls can overlook pretty much anything. Like potbellies and portly bellies and bald spots . . . and extensively extended, elongatedly elaborate egos . . . and everything and anything else. Especially if the belly’s/bald spot’s/ego’s owner can speak – elaborately, extensively, elongatedly – about ideas. Dominique Strauss-Kahn? He can speak . . . about ideas and beef and bellies and everything. (And he has such a sexy voice!) Nicolas Sarkozy? Well, he can twitch. You gotta give him that.

Sarko hasn’t announced his presidential candidature either, but comme on a établi, you just know he will. D’abord, it’s la tradition for a French President to run for a second term, and secondo . . . Well, we’re talking about Sarko. And while DSK is no sure thing – there are already a bunch of socialistes that have announced they’re running, including the super-cute Manuel Valls and the super un-cute, super un-super, super-she-screwed-it-up-superbly-the-last-time-round Ségolène Royal (who – superbly – doesn’t know when to get out of the way and shut the fuck up) – I happen to know a lot of French Socialist voters that would love to see DSK get in there and get it done. Well done – like the way some people prefer their hormone-infused beef.

Me? I’m a nerd: I love presidential debates. Un débat pitching Sarko contre DSK? I’d throw a presidential party. (I’d serve steack tartare.) The very thought of it, at l’Élysée? Well, when it comes to the media, Sarko’s street gang is already on Red Alert. (HA! Get it? Socialists? Red?) As for what’s going on in that big chair in France’s biggest office down there at l’Élysée? I can already hear the elevator heels nervously clicking away all the way up here in the 18th arrondissement.

Boot on the Ground
Joe Carducci

I guess when your name is Max Boot you’ve got to deliver ass-kickings right and left. But just as his long slog of an ass-kicking of Donald Rumsfeld in New Republic on the occasion of the publication of his memoir hits the mailboxes of national policymakers all over town his every last ungenerous and personalized blaming of the former Secretary of Defense for events in many places besides treacherous Washington D.C. itself threatens to send that max boot right up his own ass. Not that the same isn’t close to happening to a lot of former members of the we-were-lied-to peace caucus… But Max has also been in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times as well in the past week. Isn’t there some honest work like plumbing or caulking needs doing at his day job at the Council on Foreign Relations? He really let himself go on old Rummy’s ass beginning with the book’s paternity:

“If Rumsfeld has any pride of authorship, he hides it well. His acknowledgements suggest that no fewer than three people contributed to the writing while eleven more checked facts, transcribed dictation, and acquired documents and illustrations. The result reads, not surprisingly, more like a memo written by a team of clever if unprincipled publicists — ‘The Case for Donald Rumsfeld’ — than a genuinely reflective memoir that tries to delve into the author’s inner life and come to grips with the decisions he made and their consequences.”

I think Oprah also passed on a Rumsfeld interview because he refused to delve into his inner life and weep like a penitent. I haven’t read the book but I remember the debates and contending rationales and the votes over all of it going back to the first battle against Iraq and little or none of that is brought to bear in any of these Boot pieces. And that would be because everything in Washington is about jobs, jobs, jobs. The big jobs in the big chairs of which there are never enough to go around when the presidential campaign music stops.

President Obama felt he had to keep Robert Gates on as SecDef for war-fighting credibility so to speak. Now, you don’t have to be no genius to imagine what the various Democratic-multilateralists-Republican-Internationalist-Thirdway-Independents geniuses made of that! One less chair -- One extra Booty! Max’s review is titled “The Worst” whereas he refers to Gates as “hardly superhuman, but he has been widely acclaimed for having a far more successful tenure”. Translation: Far more successful than the worst, but certain to replaced in a second Obama term. For when Gates, the Republican interloper, tried to head off this Third Way humanitarian intervention in Libya he gave cheer to none more than the Tea Party or Pat Buchanan. Back then in the olden days of last week Max wrote his “It’s Not Too Late to Save Libya” in the WSJ, where he argued:

“By itself, a no-fly zone might not be enough to topple Gadhafi. At the very least, however, it would dishearten Gadhafi's supporters and buy time for the rebels. We could further tilt the balance in their favor by bombing Gadhafi's installations and troops.

It may also be necessary to send arms and Special Forces trainers to support the rebels. Without committing any combat troops of our own, we could deliver the same kind of potent combined-arms punch that drove the Serbs out of Kosovo when NATO aircraft supported ground operations by the Kosovo Liberation Army. The Libyan opposition movement, led by Gadhafi's former justice minister, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, has been desperately asking for international aid in the form of a no-fly zone. If we finally delivered, you can bet that he and other Libyans would be grateful. Kosovo's capital, Pristina, today has a major thoroughfare named Bill Clinton Boulevard crowned with a 10-foot statue of their savior. It is not far-fetched to imagine a Barack Obama Boulevard in Tripoli if the president finally finds the courage to act.”

I’m not sure Max remembers, but it was also reported that there’s a statue of Elvis on Mars. No word on the level of gratefulness of Martians. But I don’t recall those actions in Bosnia and Kosovo being handled any less hit-or-miss clumsy than operations in Iraq or Afghanistan even at their reduced scale. I guess elasticity in judgment is a good quality in our next presumptive Secretary of Defense.

And then right on cue, the President sided with his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (his and hers statues coming up) and the International Community over Gates and Pat Buchanan and the ghost of Colonel McCormick without even a nod in the direction of the U.S. Congress. There are no boots on the ground so its not a war per se. Still, stiffing Congress for the imprimaturs of the UN, EU, and Arab League, there’s what I call your vicarious ex-pat American elite in action. So Boot, now sweating bullets, saves the New York Times for his now-you-tell-us throat clearing fine print in “Planning for a Post-Qaddafi Libya”:

“For weeks, I’ve argued that the United States and our allies should impose a no-fly zone over Libya and mount airstrikes to stop Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s advance against the embattled rebels. Last week, the United Nations Security Council authorized precisely those actions. Over the weekend, missile strikes began. I should be elated, right? Instead, I can’t stop worrying about everything that could go wrong…. Like such other post-conflict states as Kosovo and East Timor, post-Qaddafi Libya will most likely need an international peacekeeping force. This should be organized under the auspices of the United Nations, NATO and the Arab League — a step that will require amending the Security Council resolution, which forbids a ‘foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory.’ None of this is meant to imply that I have suddenly changed my mind and decided that we should have stayed out of Libya.”

That’s nice to know; he hasn’t changed his mind yet. Neither is there any indication that Secretary Clinton has yet changed her mind. No indication either way from the President. I think Boot should calm down. A Secretary of Defense who will kick his own ass just might be the ideal replacement for Bob Gates the neo-isolationist who may even harbor doubts about the New Deal.

Its nice to see how the Times as a public service makes itself available to our next Secretary of Defense to preemptively defend himself against any career blowback so as to secure that big chair. But personalized political hostility especially such ungenerous stuff often makes me wonder whether people ever really talk about anybody but themselves.

PS, Also in the Times was a sad little orphan photograph of Daniel Ellsberg at a DC demonstration that was captioned, “Vietnam-era Protester in the Age of Iraq”. It made me wonder about both the New York Times and those protesters. Don’t they read the papers?! Its no longer the Age of Iraq.

Petrochelidon Ruflgula by James Fotopoulos

From the Desk of Joe Carducci…

Phred Dvorak & Andrew Morse in WSJ, "Plant Workers Recall Moment Quake Struck".

“For Mr. Tada, a 29-year-old employee in the Fukushima branch of Tokyo-based Tokai Toso Co., the first hint of the quake was a gentle rocking. At the time, he was shrouded in a white protective suit and mask, deep in the bowels of the plant's No. 4 reactor. The reactor had been shut down for a major overhaul, and Mr. Tada had been scanning the surface of the suppression chamber, which lies below the container surrounding the fuel rods, for signs of corrosion. When the swaying started, then grew more violent, Mr. Tada grabbed at some hanging pipes to hold himself upright. Then came the terrible boom, magnified in the doughnut-shaped chamber. The earthquake knocked out the plant's regular power, but Mr. Tada and his three companions in the chamber made their way out by the emergency lighting—the tsunami that destroyed the plant's backup generators was still an hour away. Mr. Tada emerged into a crowd of several hundred other workers, all heading toward a handful of exits from the reactor building. But he said there was no panic. Managers from plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. had shown up, and were directing workers into lines to file out. ‘I thought it was amazing,’ Mr. Tada said, referring to the orderliness of the departure.”


Tyler Brûlé in FT, "Tokyo with the dimmer switch on".

“The only difference was that most companies I visited were operating with more lights off, fewer staff and a more relaxed schedule. Nevertheless, there was a strong sense of purpose that business needed to be done and very little time spent discussing the disaster. The one exception, however, was a chief executive and founder of a large Japanese retail group who told me that nearly a dozen of his factories had been hit in and around Miyagi. ‘Some of them are fine but some are destroyed. I work with a very small company with just a few tailors and they make the most wonderful suits with the most perfect shoulder shape. They’re so skilled,’ he said. ‘But no one answers the phone.’ He said there were many talented, small craft-based firms in the region and he wasn’t sure what he was going to do if he’d lost some of them. Indeed, the complete deletion of some niche manufacturers will only come to light as their headquarters in Tokyo resume normal operations and find essential craftsmen and artisans in their supply chains have vanished - for ever.”


Economist: "Japan and the uses of adversity".

“Chinese and Indian websites were agog at the orderliness of the Japanese, even those now homeless and even as the nuclear panic mounted. They noted the lack of looting. Some drew unfavourable comparisons with their own people and governments. An article on one Chinese site, Caixin, referred both to the earthquake in China’s Sichuan province in 2008, when some 70,000 people died, and to the way schools in Japan have been used as shelters. In the Sichuan earthquake many schools collapsed. Parents blamed corruption and shoddy construction. This popular response was matched by official warmth. Like China’s during the relief effort that followed the Sichuan earthquake, Japan’s foreign relations have improved. It has been on bad terms with China since a row last September over the Senkaku islands. But China has donated aid and, at his annual press conference on March 14th, Wen Jiabao, the prime minister, made a point of giving a message of support for Japan, recalling its help to China in 2008. Similarly, the disasters have led to a rapprochement with Russia, with which relations have also been fraught over a territorial dispute. Vladimir Putin, the Russian prime minister, has offered aid in the form of energy and ordered officials to speed up an oil-and-gas project on the island of Sakhalin to meet future Japanese demand. Russia’s offer may be based on the assumption that Japan will have to pare back its reliance on nuclear energy. And that is another lesson that Asian observers of Japan’s crisis have taken home: if even Japan — so well-organised and disciplined, so well prepared for disaster and so experienced in nuclear power — can come so close to catastrophe, what nuclear risks are their own countries running?”


Loro Horta at Yaleglobal, "Asians March Into Africa".

“With the exception of the US Navy, the Indian Navy is by far the dominant force in the Indian Ocean. India has grown apprehensive over China’s expanding presence in East Africa. In 2007 the Indian military established an electronic listening center in Madagascar, just off the coast of Mozambique and near Mauritius, the home of one of China’s SEZs, as described by an Indian defense report. In 2006 at the request of the Mozambican government, Indian warships patrolled the capital’s coast during the Summit of Heads of State of the African Union. Chinese military officials and academics have called for military bases in East Africa and the Indian Ocean. As navies expand, interest and conflicts in the Indian Ocean and East Africa are likely to increase. As ports and security boost trade, China has emerged as Mozambique’s second largest trading partner.”


Graham Ong-Webb at Opendemocracy.net, "How far will China’s navy reach?"

“History tells us that a country's naval power tends to be directly linked with its economic strength, and China, in recent times, is no exception. To be sure, China has been slow to shift away from its deeply entrenched continental mindset. After all, 14 land powers share territorial frontiers with China, while only six maritime countries surround the Chinese coast. However, now that China has settled 12 out of 14 land border disputes with its neighbors, the sea is the final frontier that Beijing feels compelled to secure. There is some urgency in this quest. The bulk of global trade is only possible by sea-borne freight. Beijing feels it must protect the sea lanes that make both the movement of goods (about 90 percent of its import and exports) and the importation of resources and energy possible, without which China's economy would come to a standstill. The Chinese leadership also feels that it must protect what they perceive to be its maritime territorial sovereignty. As a matter of ‘coastal defense’, the Chinese Navy is compelled to secure its 18,000-kilometer shoreline. Now, the Chinese Navy is attempting to secure the country's claim to an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of 200 nautical miles from the country's continental shelf.”


MercoPress: "Fearing social unrest, Beijing bans “hedonistic, high-end” lifestyle advertising".

“Newly forbidden words include ‘supreme‘, ‘royal’, ‘luxury’ or ‘high class’, which are widely used in Chinese promotions for houses, vehicles and wines, it said. Authorities in the south-western mega-city of Chongqing last week issued similar rules that barred real estate advertisements from using phrases including ‘best’, ‘unique’ or ‘irreplaceable’.”


Economist: "Indonesia - Power to the people! No, wait…"

“After Suharto was toppled in 1998, the central government offered block grants and tax-raising powers to the provinces and local districts, providing them with the means to run their own affairs. Local leaders were to be directly elected every five years. Anyone was allowed to petition the central government to create new units of local government. Unsurprisingly, given the money on offer, this has led to what Indonesians refer to as a ‘blossoming’ of devolved authorities. In 1999 there were 292 districts in 26 provinces. Today that has grown to over 500 districts in 33 provinces. In some ways, it has been a success. The country has held together. Devolution’s boosters claim that ‘unity in diversity’ is a reality. True, tensions remain between Jakarta and Papua, which is virtually a sealed state run by the army. But places like East Kalimantan are now proudly local and proudly Indonesian.”


Bryan Appleyard in Literary Review on Edward Glaeser’s book, Triumph of the City.

Triumph of the City is a thrilling and very readable hymn of praise to an invention so vast and so effective that it is generally taken for granted. More than half the global population already live in urban areas and, every month, five million more flood into the cities of the developing world. The crowds and poverty of Mumbai and São Paulo horrify Western eyes. They shouldn't, says Glaeser: they are signs of growth, energy and aspiration. Cities are our best and brightest hope. The idea runs into more than 200 years of resistance. Not long after the Industrial Revolution took hold, the Romantics turned away from smoke and dirt to celebrate the air and light of untouched nature. In America, Henry David Thoreau retreated to Walden Pond to live the solitary, simple life, and convinced generations of Americans that cities were bad and nature was good.”


WSJ: "Arabs Love the Pax Americana".

“Propelled by a strong domestic economy, the Turks have built their recent regional standing through trade and a political shift from its longstanding alliance with the West. Tellingly, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan opposes a no-fly zone. ‘We see NATO military intervention in another country as extremely unbeneficial,’ he said. Turkey had no such qualms when NATO came to the rescue of Europe's besieged Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo, but in the 1990s Ankara saw America as an ally, not a potential competitor. The Sunni Arab states fear the nuclear ambitions of Shiite Iran as much as Israel does. It's not lost on them that while democratic uprisings toppled two Arab regimes friendly to the U.S. and threaten several others, Tehran has squelched the opposition Green Movement without inhibitions. The nuclear program, meanwhile, is Iran's secret weapon to become the dominant regional power.”


Arnold Hottinger interview at Qantara.de.

“Europeans think they have a political understanding of the Muslim Brothers. That's nonsense, because the Muslim Brothers are in the process of splitting. There are those who want democracy – the others want democracy too, but in an Islamic form. In addition there are breakaway groups like ‘Wassat’, who aren't Muslim Brothers at all any more, and they also stand for basic democratic ideals. This fear of the Muslim Brothers is laughable. They are no longer the bogeymen which they were perhaps in 1949.”


Bruce Maddy-Weitzman at Meforum.org, "Morocco’s Berbers and Israel".

“The Berber component of Moroccan identity has already been given official recognition by the state as it seeks to address at least some of the movement's symbolic and material grievances in order to maintain a balance of forces within the Moroccan political fabric. Islamists and pan-Arabists have repeatedly clashed with Berber activists in recent months, mainly through polemical exchanges in a variety of media outlets. The specifics have varied, but they have had a common theme: Jews and Israel. From the Islamist and pan-Arab perspective, this should come as no surprise. Hostility to Zionism, which all too often has morphed into anti-Semitism and Holocaust belittlement and even denial, has long been instrumental for many opposition groups and Arab regimes seeking to mobilize public opinion. The Berber engagement in the debate, by contrast, is far less self-evident given their past evasion of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Initial indications of these changing attitudes were afforded by the 2007 announcements of plans to create two complementary Berber-Jewish friendship associations in the Souss region of southwestern Morocco, the region where, according to tradition, Jews first settled after the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE. Their purpose, said one of the founders, was to promote the various aspects of Morocco's cultural heritage—Berber, Jewish, African, and Arab; disseminate the culture of coexistence and respect of the ‘other’ while rejecting violence and intolerance toward others; give real standing to the Berber and Hebrew languages inside Morocco, in order to make it a homeland for all, and to build bridges with Moroccan Jews, both inside the country (approximately 3,000) and overseas, particularly ‘Amazigh Jews in various countries.’”


Jeffrey Gettleman in NYT, "Libyan Oil Buys Loyal African Allies for Qaddafi".

“From Liberia to South Africa to the island of Madagascar, Libya’s holdings are like a giant venture capital fund, geared to make friends and win influence in the poorest region in the world. This may help explain how Colonel Qaddafi has been able to summon sub-Saharan African soldiers to fight for him in his time of need — Libyans have spoken of ‘African mercenaries’ killing protesters and helping him rout rebel fighters — and why so many African leaders have been so slow to criticize him, even as his forces slaughter his own people. ‘So many of these presidents at one time or another have gotten something directly from him,’ said Manny Ansar, a prominent Malian intellectual who organizes one of West Africa’s most celebrated cultural happenings, Mali’s Festival in the Desert. ‘So what are they going to say now?’ While the Arab League was quick to suspend Libya last month and has even asked the United Nations Security Council to impose a no-flight zone to stop Colonel Qaddafi’s attacks on his people, the African Union has taken a more cautious stance, deciding only on Friday to send negotiators who will meet with both sides. Seen as eccentric and unpredictable, Colonel Qaddafi never got far as a leader in the Arab world. But in sub-Saharan Africa, many have been inspired by his vision of a ‘United States of Africa’ and appreciate his anti-Western tirades. The Libyan government, which is, in essence, Colonel Qaddafi, also pays 15 percent of the African Union dues. He even succeeded in getting some traditional African leaders to call him ‘King of Kings,’ and in Mali, from the streets to the president’s office, there seems to be near unanimous respect.”


WSJ: "Europe Pressure, Arab Support Helped Turn U.S".

“Col. Moammar Gadhafi, Libya's leader, himself helped, unifying the U.N. powers with a relentless military campaign that threatened to snuff out a pro-democracy rebellion and set off a bloodbath among rebels and civilians. That prospect alarmed Obama advisors including U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and National Security Council staffer Samantha Power. Both had made their names in part by arguing the West's inaction during the Rwandan genocide in the 1990s made it morally complicit. ‘Susan Rice didn't want a Rwanda on her hands,’ said a senior Arab diplomat deeply involved in the negotiations.”


Bret Stephens in WSJ, "We’re (Almost) All Neocons Now".

“In a 2009 column, I wrote that the reason neoconservatism refused to die after the Bush years was that the world's tyrants refused to go away. Now it is positively in vogue. There you have the Arab League, calling for Western intervention in the domestic affairs of an Arab state. There you have David Cameron, who once promised to ‘think through much more carefully’ whether to send British troops to war, pushing for war. There you have the president of France — France! — eager to fire the first Western shot over Libya. And there you have Anne-Marie Slaughter, until last month Hillary Clinton's director for policy planning, reproving her former colleagues in a March 13 New York Times op-ed for ‘fiddling while Libya burns.’ This is the same Ms. Slaughter who in 2008 explained that her ‘biggest difference’ with neocons ‘concerns the willingness to use military force,’ adding that she was ‘far more humble about how pro-active a role the United States can really play.’ Then again, Ms. Slaughter was an initial (if equivocal) supporter of the invasion of Iraq, so perhaps she's just returning to form. ‘Even without such evidence [that Saddam has WMD],’ she wrote in March 2003, ‘the United States and its allies can justify their intervention if the Iraqi people welcome their coming and if they turn immediately back to the United Nations to help rebuild their country.’ Which is exactly what happened. It's easy to forget that Iraq was a war many liberals — Joe Biden, John Kerry and Hillary Clinton among them — once supported, when they could bring themselves to hate Saddam more than they did the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal. The latter passion overwhelmed the former for a few years, but eventually the initial logic of their position was bound to reassert itself in some similar scenario.”


Yaroslav Trofimov & Charles Levinson in WSJ, "Libya’s Rebels Embrace West".

“Islamist and secular alike, Libyan rebels express their gratitude for the Western airstrikes, drawing a sharp distinction between the aircampaign against Col. Gadhafi and the American entanglements in Iraq and Afghanistan. A handful of today's Libyan revolutionaries fought American troops in those conflicts. ‘When America occupied Afghanistan and Iraq, it spread corruption and killed innocents,’ said Rafat Bakar, a thick-beardedrevolutionary activist in the city of Baida. ‘A Western intervention in Libya would help us get rid of the tyrant and of injustice.’”


Christopher Caldwell in FT, "A war to die for but not control".

“The diffident US that confronted Libya is the US that Europe‘s leaders professed to want seven or eight years ago. There is no pleasing them…. Isolationism tends to be the preferred foreign policy of the American public. It is the foreign policy that allows the country to take maximum advantage of its great strategic asset -- its intervocalic isolation. The emergency of September 11 2001, and the incursions into Afghanistan and Iraq that followed from it, obscured a growing impatience with military adventurism. There had been no call for President Clinton‘s ‘humanitarian‘ attack on Haiti or the Nato strikes on Bosnia. The Nato air war on Serbia (1999) was unpopular from the outset, with a resolution to support the war suffering an unprecedented failure in the House of Representatives.”


Jim Yardley in NYT, "Mullah in Debate of Tradition vs. Modern Schooling".

“Founded in 1866, Darul Uloom has trained thousands of imams who, in turn, have founded madrasas throughout South Asia and Africa as part of the Deobandi Islamic Movement. Deobandis advocate a conservative form of Islam, and some Deobandi mosques in Pakistan and Afghanistan became radicalized in recent decades. Many members of the Taliban call themselves Deobandis, even though the Indian leaders of Darul Uloom have strongly condemned them, rejected extremism and organized meetings of Islamic teachers to denounce terrorism. During India’s independence movement, Deobandis supported Gandhi and later rejected joining a partitioned Pakistan. Today, Darul Uloom is better known in India for issuing so many provocative fatwas, or religious opinions, that it is often derided in the Indian news media as a ‘fatwa factory.’ These opinions, often ignored by mainstream Indian Muslims, have included edicts against women wearing blue jeans; against women and men working together in offices; and against the practice of collecting interest on bank deposits.”


Daniel Mahoney in WSJ on Olivier Roy’s book, Holy Ignorance.

“By fanaticism, Mr. Roy does not mean merely extreme fundamentalist belief. He argues that all faith, in its isolated, separatist form, gives rise to a disdain for ‘profane culture’ — everything that is not derived from religion—and to a preference for ‘pure religion,’ a form of religious belief that is unmediated, unstructured and unconnected to the larger society. Pure religion, in Mr. Roy's view, not only tends to fanaticism but lacks any grounding in a common world. Such religion loses touch, he says, with ‘religious knowledge itself.’ It fails to acknowledge its dependence on a dynamic cultural tradition. He sees the spread of Pentecostalism, the world's fastest growing religion, as evidence of the rise of ‘holy ignorance.’ Its adherents ‘speak in tongues,’ in a language that is understood only by those who have been touched by the Holy Spirit. Mr. Roy's category of ‘holy ignorance,’ though illuminating, can be too broad and indiscriminate. He never explains why one form of holy ignorance, such as Pentecostalism, avoids political extremism while other forms do not: Many adherents of Salafist Islam, for instance, endorse violence in the name of fidelity to the Prophet. Mr. Roy's holy-ignorance category includes even Pope Benedict's call for the enhanced use of Latin in the Catholic liturgy, part of the church's effort to restore a sense of the sacred to the Mass. Yet for Mr. Roy even a partial return to a Latin liturgy is the ‘use of a new mantra’ aimed at ‘magical’ effects; it is, for him, an instrument for isolating religion instead of bringing it into contact with contemporary culture. But surely Latin is not so esoteric that it cannot speak to at least some believers today. And a pope who repeatedly argues for the ‘acculturation’ of faith in the civilization of the West—who argues for joining faith to reason, without which religion becomes mere superstition—makes a poor proponent of holy ignorance.”


Shirin Ebadi interview at Opendemocracy.net.

“When I was in Egypt three years ago I was astonished by the number of young women wearing the hijab. They were saying that their parents were not respecting their national identity, that they had found their national identity. They were against the Mubarak regime. There were also communist and secular movements in opposition but they were easily harassed and couldn’t carry on with their activities. But they couldn’t prevent the Islamists from organizing- you can’t close down the mosques. As a result the non-Islamist opposition grew weaker, and the Muslim Brotherhood is now the most powerful opposition group in Egypt. But the example of Iran is frightening to the women of Egypt and they do not want to share the same fate. To alleviate such fears the Muslim Brotherhood said that the Egyptian uprising was not an Islamic uprising, but one in which Muslims and Christians have fought alongside one another. It promised to support and to participate in a non-Islamist government. Are they going to stand by their promises? Or will they change their stance if they consolidate their power? It is too early to judge. Egyptian women are lucky in one way - they have witnessed the predicament of Iranian women and seen how the Islamic state has hijacked the Iranian revolution, changed the laws and reversed women’s gains. Therefore they will stand up and fight for their rights. I believe that Iran was a lesson for the women in the entire region…. If it had taken one day, people like me wouldn’t be here. Where would I come from? The law changed because they had political power. But society didn’t accept it. For that reason, people took their lives into their own hands and fought against it. At the beginning we were not a very large number for two reasons. One was a political reason. The left and some secular parties were saying that this was no time for discussing these matters, that these were marginal issues that would distract us from our main objectives. The biggest left wing party in Iran, the Tudeh party, told women to wear the hijab. You may be surprised but initially hijab was not compulsory in Iran, only women who worked in government bodies had to wear it, but in the street we could be unveiled.”


Christopher Hitchens in Vanity Fair, "What I Don’t See at the Revolution".

“In Eastern Europe by the end of the 1980s, one knew not only what the people wanted but also how they would get it. Not to diminish the grandeur of those revolutions, the citizens essentially desired to live in Western European conditions, of greater prosperity and greater liberty. It took one concerted shove to ‘the Wall’ and they were living in Western Europe, or anyway Central Europe…. For centuries, Egypt’s rulers have been able to depend on the sheer crushing weight of torpor and inertia to maintain ‘stability.’ I am writing this in the first week of February, and I won’t be surprised if the machine—with or without Mubarak—is able to rely again on this dead hand while the exemplary courage and initiative of the citizens of Tahrir Square slowly ebb away. Still, and for many of the same reasons, it is unlikely in the highest degree that the tremors will produce a ghastly negation: a Khomeini or a Mugabe who turns the initial revolution into a vicious counterrevolution. Egypt’s tenuous economy is hugely dependent on hospitality to Western tourists. Perhaps one in 10 Egyptians is a Christian. To the nation’s immediate south, in Sudan, millions of Africans have just voted to secede from a state that imposes Shari’a, and have taken most of the country’s oil fields along with them.”


CSM: "Yemen will be the big test for democracy vs. Al Qaeda".

“Is democracy the best repellent against Al Qaeda in Muslim countries? That question, which Americans have debated since the invasion of Iraq, may finally get its ultimate test in Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country. Yemen’s longtime ruler, President Ali Abdullah Saleh, is losing power quickly. Thousands of young people have kept peaceful street vigils for democracy since Feb. 21, inspired by Egypt’s ouster of Hosni Mubarak. Last Friday, Mr. Saleh’s legitimacy fell dramatically after security forces killed nearly 50 protesters near Sanaa University and Taghyir (Change) Square. That slaughter of civilians has now triggered high-level defections of top generals and tribal leaders, who finally recognize the ideals of the disaffected youth and the hollow promises of reform by Saleh. It may also have ended President Obama’s strong support of Saleh, who has received millions in US aid for his fight against Islamic militants. Unlike Tunisia, Egypt, or Libya, Yemen is home to a branch of Al Qaeda that American officials say is ‘probably the most significant risk to the US homeland’ – even more dangerous than Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. Both the attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day 2009 and the discovery of parcel bombs on an aircraft bound for the US last year originated from the group, which is known as Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). In addition, the 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood was linked to a radical Yemeni-American cleric, Anwar Aulaqi, who operates from the country.”


Ira Stoll at Futureofcapitalism.com, "Liberals on Libya".

“Michael Walzer and Philip Gourevitch both have skeptical pieces newly out about President Obama's bombing of Libya. Mr. Gourevitch's article is in the New Yorker, Mr. Walzer's article is in The New Republic. Mr. Gourevitch observes that one of the leaders of the rebellion in Libya ‘is a man who served, until a few weeks ago, as Qaddafi's own Minister of Justice’ and asks, ‘speaking of democracy, what about American public opinion? What about Congress? Is the Security Council the only place where this should be deliberated? What about some attempt by our Commander-in-Chief to advise and seek the consent of the electorate before we march into battle overseas?’ Jeffrey Goldberg, blogging at the Atlantic, is also skeptical: ‘I've been wondering just exactly why armed intervention in Libya is so urgently sought by the West, and why armed intervention in other places that are suffering from similar man-made disasters (Yemen, the Ivory Coast, and the big enchilada, Iran, to name three) is not.’ I mention these three not because I always agree with them or even because I necessarily agree with them on Libya (which in any case is rather far afield from our usual subject matter here), but just because I think it's newsworthy that Obama has handled this in such a way that hasn't won over these folks, who aren't knee-jerk pacifists.”


Christopher Caldwell in Weekly Standard, "Le Pen Is Mightier".

“She lacks her father’s electoral baggage. She has explicitly repudiated the anti-Semitism in which the party stewed throughout his tenure. And she has gifts that her father never possessed. The elder Le Pen had only two oratorical registers—indignation and buffoonery. Marine Le Pen can give a moving speech. The one she gave at Tours on the day she was elected party leader was hailed as a triumph. What is more, she has a platform that a lot of French voters like and no other party will touch: Ms. Le Pen considers globalization a mistake, lock, stock, and barrel. Just as Nazism and communism were the totalitarianisms of the twentieth century, Islamism and globalism are the totalitarianisms of the twenty-first, Ms. Le Pen believes. France needs to reexamine its membership in the European Union (which has robbed great nations of their sovereignty and saddled them with an unworkable currency) and in NATO (which has subordinated the country’s foreign policy interests to those of the United States), and it should not make a dogma of free trade. ‘This identity-killing globalization,’ she said at Tours, ‘has turned into an economic horror, a social tsunami, a moral Chernobyl.’ Then she led into more familiar FN themes—the International Monetary Fund, the ‘demographic submersion’ of France, self-appointed elites, and the need for French citizens to ‘pick up the flag.’ Ms. Le Pen is a candidate in next year’s presidential election, and a poll released in October showed her hovering at a stunning 19 percent in the polls, which put her just a couple of points behind Sarkozy and Socialist hopeful Martine Aubry, the mayor of Lille. (Dominique Strauss-Kahn, president of the IMF and a former Socialist finance minister, was at 30 percent, but he has not yet decided whether to run.)”


Rachel Donadio in NYT, "An Aria for Italy’s Unity Also Sounds Like an Elegy".

“Beyond the political theater, the polemics reflect a profound reality: as Italy prepares to celebrate its 150th anniversary it is more fractured than ever before — politically, geographically and economically. The country has always been more a patchwork of regions with strong local identities rather than a strong nation-state. And the celebrations have only highlighted the seams. ‘Italy has never been this divided,’ Gioacchino Lanza Tomasi, a musicologist and the son of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, whose 1958 novel, The Leopard, is among the most trenchant depictions of Italian unification, said recently in an interview in Palermo. Nearby, in an unkempt city park, stood a statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi on horseback, his hand held aloft toward the Italian mainland. It was Garibaldi’s landing in Sicily in 1860, and riots for independence in central Italy, that led to unification — a merging of the Bourbon Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in the south, the Savoy dynasty in the north and Sardinia, some Papal States, and other feudal powers.”


Stephen Goldsmith in WSJ, "Progressive Government Is Obsolete".

“A hundred years ago, progressives envisioned a highly professional public-sector work force reining in exploitative corporate interests. They saw those on the margin being victimized both by corrupt government and business interests. They believed that the worst abuses of capitalism — think Upton Sinclair's The Jungle — would be reined in by government regulation. Ironically, today we find that in many cases special interests are working in the bureaucracy, using Progressive Era rules to protect the status quo and themselves. Recent efforts to trim approximately 150 laborers, carpenters and electricians from city hospitals, for example, were halted by a lawsuit brought by the unions. In a city facing a multibillion-dollar deficit, every nonessential dollar spent is a dollar less available for hospital care — or shelter for the homeless, or police for troubled neighborhoods. In a word, these special- interest interventions ultimately lead to socially regressive results.”


James Grant in WSJ on Douglas Irwin’s book, Peddling Protectionism.

“As every schoolboy used to know, the tariff was the workhorse of the U.S. Treasury before the 20th-century income tax. But it did more than finance the government. It also fattened the profits of the manufacturers who succeeded in lobbying for tariff rates high enough to keep out foreign competition. Interestingly, Mr. Irwin reminds us, Smoot-Hawley was no Depression measure. Enacted in June 1930, it was conceived as a political gambit intended to win struggling farmers over to the Republican Party in the elections of 1928. While the GOP wanted no part of overtly subsidizing agricultural prices, it was only too happy to legislate a rise in the duties on imported farm products (of which there were actually precious few), as well as a broad-based upward revision in tariffs on manufactured goods. ‘Equality for agriculture’ was the unpersuasive slogan. Most of us, though not Mr. Irwin, forget that the Republican Party was once the citadel of protectionism. High tariffs, the party of Lincoln had claimed from its founding, were the basis of American prosperity. ‘Free trade’ was then the political epithet that ‘protectionist’ has now become. Today low-cost foreign merchandise crowds the aisles of Wal-Mart, while dollars reciprocally accumulate on the balance sheets of America's Asian creditors. U.S. tariffs these days are nothing compared with the towering levies of yesteryear—less than 5% on dutiable imports versus 45% in 1930. Which is not to say that goods and services and money flit freely across the face of the earth. Exchange-rate manipulation is the preferred modern method for managing one's balance of payments.”


Economist: John Micklethwait, "Taming Leviathan".

“‘We are in a transition from a big state to a small state, and from a small society to a big society.’ A Republican presidential candidate in America? David Cameron rallying Britain’s Tories? Neither: the speaker is supposedly China’s most highly regarded bureaucrat. Last year Ma Hong won the country’s national award for government innovation—a great coup for her department, which is trying to get more non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to take over parts of welfare, health and education services in the city of Shenzhen, just across the border from Hong Kong. The award partly reflects the whirl of activity that is Ms Ma. She has dismantled most of the controls on local NGOs: rather than be sponsored by some government department, all they have to do is register with her. She began in 2004 with industrial associations, but has extended the net to include independent charities. Almost 4,000 ‘social groups’ are now registered — nearly double the number in 2002, when they were all tied to the state…. Indeed, the fiery argument about capitalism prompted by the credit crunch has obscured a nascent, and much broader, debate about the nature of government. The future of the state is likely to dominate politics for the next decade at least. How can government be made more efficient? What should it do and not do? To whom should it answer? Ms Ma is one voice in this, but so are the anti-tax tea-party activists in America, French workers protesting against later retirement and British parents trying to set up independent schools with state money.”


Charles Krauthammer in CT, "It bears repeating: The lockbox is empty".

“Lew acknowledges that the Social Security surpluses of the last decades were siphoned off to the Treasury Department and spent. He also agrees that Treasury then deposited corresponding IOUs — called ‘special issue’ bonds — in the Social Security trust fund. These have real value, claims Lew. After all, ‘these Treasury bonds are backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government in the same way that all other U.S. Treasury bonds are.’ Really? If these trust fund bonds represent anything real, why is it that in calculating national indebtedness they are not even included? We measure national solvency by debt/gross domestic product ratio. As calculated by everyone from the Office of Management and Budget to the CIA, from the Simpson-Bowles to the Domenici-Rivlin commissions, the debt/GDP ratio counts only publicly held debt. This means bonds held by China, Saudi Arabia, you and me. The debt ratio completely ignores the kind of intragovernmental bonds that Lew insists are the equivalent of publicly held bonds. Why? Because the intragovernmental bond is nothing more than a bookkeeping device that records how much one part of the U.S. government (Treasury) owes another part of the government (Social Security Administration). In judging the creditworthiness of the United States, the world doesn't care what the left hand owes the right. It's all one entity. It cares only what that one entity owes the world. That's why publicly held bonds are so radically different from intragovernmental bonds. If we default on Chinese-held debt, decades of AAA creditworthiness is destroyed, the world stops lending to us, the dollar collapses, the economy goes into a spiral and we become Argentina. That's why such a default is inconceivable. On the other hand, what would happen to financial markets if the Treasury stopped honoring the ‘special issue’ bonds in the Social Security trust fund? A lot of angry grumbling at home for sure. But externally? Nothing.”


Michael Corkery in WSJ, "Illinois Pension Crisis Eludes Easy Solutions".

“Whatever approach is embraced, it remains unclear whether such strategies would fix the Illinois system, which is 45% funded. That makes it the most under-funded state plan in the U.S., according to Moody's Investor's Service. The proposals come as Illinois focuses on home-grown solutions to its pension difficulties after Gov. Pat Quinn created a stir when he said in his budget proposal last month that the state may need a ‘federal guarantee’ of its pension funds—a reference his office now says was a mistake. ‘It should have been edited out,’ David Vaught, the governor's budget director, said in an interview. ‘We don't think we need a bailout.’ The warning contained in the 472-page budget document raised fears that the state could go hat in hand to Washington, a scenario that some U.S. lawmakers have feared could spur other states to do the same. Now in Illinois, talk of state-centered pension fixes has drowned out any whispers of a federal bailout.”


William McGurn in WSJ, "Michigan’s War on the Middle Class".

“Michigan today is not a struggling state like California or New Jersey or even Wisconsin. It is a basket case, with worse to come if things do not change quickly—especially in the relation of the public to the private sector. ‘Many of the protesters seem to think the war is between rich and poor,’ says Michael LaFaive, director of the Morey Fiscal Policy Initiative at the Michigan-based Mackinac Center. ‘But the real class war today is between government and the people who pay for it. And the government's been winning.’ Here's a telling anecdote from Monday's Detroit Free Press: An article on Michigan-bred Red Robin restaurants quoted its owner as saying he could not see expanding in Michigan, given its tax climate. An accompanying photograph drove home the point. It features the company accountant holding up its tax returns for Ohio and Michigan: While the former is five pages long, the latter clocks in at 270.”


Robert Shiller in NYT, "Share The Risk And Share The Harvest" .

“How did our forebears manage their risks, which were as significant for them as the booms and busts of our 21st-century economy are to us? In good times, all three generations consumed a lot. In bad times, all three consumed less. The risks were spread among the extended family. This is risk management at its most basic level. It is called sharing. The farmers worked hard, and when they grew old, they were supported by the next generations. The elderly weren’t treated differently. Everyone shared in the good and the bad, with adjustments for health and special needs. Let’s apply modern financial thinking to the old-time farm. Rather than sharing, families could set up traditional pension plans like the ones now established for state government employees. In this situation, the extended family would guarantee some of their working adults a fixed income when they retired. If farming families followed our thinking, they would pledge some set percentage of what people had consumed during their last three working years — say, 60 percent. These ‘payments’ would be indexed to inflation, assuming that inflation was a concern in those days. Down on the farm, however, they would probably laugh at this notion. That’s because, when hard times come — as they always do — the children and working adults would have to cut back in order to pay the full ‘pensions’ of the old. Younger generations would be hit with a double-whammy, having to make do with less themselves while having to sacrifice more to meet their contractual obligations to their elders.”


John McGinnis in WSJ on Walter Olson’s book, Schools for Misrule.

“In Schools for Misrule, Walter Olson offers a fine dissection of these strangely powerful institutions. One of his themes is that law professors serve the interests of the legal profession above all else; they seek to enlarge the scope of the law, creating more work for lawyers even as the changes themselves impose more costs on society. By keeping legal rules in a state of endless churning, lawyers undermine a stable rule of law and make legal outcomes less predictable; the result is more litigation and, not incidentally, more billable hours for lawyers, who must now be consulted about the most routine matters of business practice and social life. Mr. Olson reminds us that the mere presence of law schools on college campuses was deeply controversial at the turn of the last century. Thorstein Veblen said that law schools belonged in the academy no more than schools of dancing or fencing, because their practical, vocational training detracted from the enterprise of intellectual discovery. Thus if law teachers wanted to become members of the professoriate, they had to do more than merely impart the content of legal doctrine. They had to find arguments implicit in academic trends and critique the law's very architecture. To meet the need for intellectual respectability, Mr. Olson implies, professors became engineers of reform.”


Peter Brown in New York Review of Books on Alan Cameron’s book, The Last Pagans of Rome.

“Altogether, Cameron‘s book is a myth-buster. For he gives no quarter. From one end to the other -- a full eight hundred pages -- he tracks down and demolishes every strand in the current image of a heroic last stand of noble pagans locked in deadly conflict with their Christian rivals. There is no malice in this awesome detonation of odium philologicum. Rather, Cameron moves from topic to topic in the relaxed, even benign manner of a past master of his field…. It is not for nothing that the scenario of a desperate last stand of paganism was propounded with especial fervor in the years that immediately followed the end of World War II. Such an account echoed the fears of a postwar world. For scholars in Europe and America who had recently emerged from thirty years of violence and ideological intolerance, only to confront the new, spreading shadow of the cold war, the conflcit between a liberal paganism and an intolerant Christianity seemed like a foreshadowing of the nightmares of their own times.”


Simon Romero & Sara Shahriari in NYT, "A Food’s Global Success Creates a Quandary at Home".

“When NASA scientists were searching decades ago for an ideal food for long-term human space missions, they came across an Andean plant called quinoa. With an exceptional balance of amino acids, quinoa, they declared, is virtually unrivaled in the plant or animal kingdom for its life-sustaining nutrients…. Now demand for quinoa (pronounced KEE-no-ah) is soaring in rich countries, as American and European consumers discover the ‘lost crop’ of the Incas. The surge has helped raise farmers’ incomes here in one of the hemisphere’s poorest countries. But there has been a notable trade-off: Fewer Bolivians can now afford it, hastening their embrace of cheaper, processed foods and raising fears of malnutrition in a country that has long struggled with it. The shift offers a glimpse into the consequences of rising global food prices and changing eating habits in both prosperous and developing nations. While quinoa prices have almost tripled over the past five years, Bolivia’s consumption of the staple fell 34 percent over the same period, according to the country’s agricultural ministry. The resulting quandary — local farmers earn more, but fewer Bolivians reap quinoa’s nutritional rewards — has nutritionists and public officials grasping for solutions.”


Susan Freinkel in NYT, "Plastic: Too Good to Throw Away".

“Shunning plastic may seem key to the ethic of living lightly, but the environmental reality is more complex. Originally, plastic was hailed for its potential to reduce humankind’s heavy environmental footprint. The earliest plastics were invented as substitutes for dwindling supplies of natural materials like ivory or tortoiseshell. When the American John Wesley Hyatt patented celluloid in 1869, his company pledged that the new manmade material, used in jewelry, combs, buttons and other items, would bring ‘respite’ to the elephant and tortoise because it would ‘no longer be necessary to ransack the earth in pursuit of substances which are constantly growing scarcer.’ Bakelite, the first true synthetic plastic, was developed a few decades later to replace shellac, then in high demand as an electrical insulator. The lac bugs that produced the sticky resin couldn’t keep up with the country’s rapid electrification. Today, plastic is perceived as nature’s nemesis. But a generic distaste for plastic can muddy our thinking about the trade-offs involved when we replace plastic with other materials.”


Tamar Lewin in NYT, "Study Undercuts View of College as a Place of Same-Sex Experimentation".

“In 2003, a New York magazine article, ‘Bi for Now,’ suggested that women’s involvement in their college’s gay scene exposed them to a different culture, like junior year abroad in Gay World. But according to the new study, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, based on 13,500 responses, almost 10 percent of women ages 22 to 44 with a bachelor’s degree said they had had a same-sex experience, compared with 15 percent of those with no high school diploma. Women with a high school diploma or some college, but no degree, fell in between.”


Lawrence Downes in NYT in one of those editorial page culture notes, this on Dorothy Day, briefly describes who St. Brigid of Ireland was -- a typically crazed Catholic martyr’s story, and then contrasts Day’s days in Greenwich Village:

“The Roman Catholic calendar is thick with feasts of saints, each one a story. Pick a day — say, Feb. 1. That’s St. Brigid of Ireland, a nun of the early church and the patroness of dairy maids. She was a great beauty, until she lost an eye and her face became disfigured. She rejoiced, for now she could repel suitors. It’s hard to picture St. Brigid writing a letter like this: ‘I miss you so much. I was very cold last night. Not because there wasn’t enough covers but because I didn’t have you. Please write me, sweetheart, and I won’t tear the letter up as I did the last one (but I saved the pieces) because I was mad at you. I love you muchly.’ That’s Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement, who is not yet canonized but is definitely in the running. She was by wide acclaim a saintly woman who gave her life to peace and to the poor. Though not as a cliché: she was a cranky bohemian by way of Staten Island, Greenwich Village and the Lower East Side, and lived far closer to the here and now than anyone in ‘Lives of the Saints.’”

I mean no disrespect to Dorothy Day as I have enjoyed some of her books back in my post-high school, pre-musicbiz political readings, but if Downes believes that hanging in the Village as a “cranky bohemian” is the opposite of a cliché, then Arthur Sulzberger has a tougher job ahead of him than he knows.


Leon Neyfakh in Boston Globe, "The power of lonely".

“Burum placed two individuals in a room and had them spend a few minutes getting to know each other. They then sat back to back, each facing a computer screen the other could not see. In some cases they were told they’d both be doing the same task, in other cases they were told they’d be doing different things. The computer screen scrolled through a set of drawings of common objects, such as a guitar, a clock, and a log. A few days later the participants returned and were asked to recall which drawings they’d been shown. Burum found that the participants who had been told the person behind them was doing a different task — namely, identifying sounds rather than looking at pictures — did a better job of remembering the pictures. In other words, they formed more solid memories when they believed they were the only ones doing the task. The results, which Burum cautions are preliminary, are now part of a paper on ‘the coexperiencing mind’ that was recently presented at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology conference. In the paper, Burum offers two possible theories to explain what she and Gilbert found in the study. The first invokes a well-known concept from social psychology called ‘social loafing,’ which says that people tend not to try as hard if they think they can rely on others to pick up their slack…. Burum leans toward a different explanation, which is that sharing an experience with someone is inherently distracting, because it compels us to expend energy on imagining what the other person is going through and how they’re reacting to it. ‘People tend to engage quite automatically with thinking about the minds of other people,’ Burum said in an interview…. Perhaps this explains why seeing a movie alone feels so radically different than seeing it with friends: Sitting there in the theater with nobody next to you, you’re not wondering what anyone else thinks of it; you’re not anticipating the discussion that you’ll be having about it on the way home. All your mental energy can be directed at what’s happening on the screen.”


Ann Marlowe at Thedaily.com, Hip replacement.

“What makes the hip deficit in conservative politics more of a mystery is that today’s hipster culture isn’t our parents’. It’s not so clear what it’s oppositional to. It’s not popular to be anti-military today, even among the cool kids, and as The Social Network shows, entrepreneurship can also be cool, as long as you keep your hoodie. And, oddly enough, hipster culture today isn’t opposed to older people. Many people I know in the 18-to-24 age group consider their parents their friends and genuinely enjoy spending time with them. Of course, more radical hipster culture — represented by, say, the more political devotees of the Burning Man festival — attacks ‘the patriarchy,’ racism and capitalism in far more extreme terms. But this is a fringe group in the United States, and I wouldn’t expect to find even the furthest-left Democrat embracing Burning-Man-style shamanistic imagery or trance music. Two years after the election of our first hipster president, whom I didn’t vote for and won’t, I’m still puzzling over these facts. So far I can do little but lament that we Republicans seem to be boxed into being the tepid, sedate party: the party that’s no party. What about the Tea Party? I went to one of its first rallies in the early months of 2009, and it didn’t look like a group I wanted to hang out with, worthy though I found its ideas. I understand that they are populists and all. But still, they were so badly dressed. Hoping some answers, or even a solution, might emerge from solidarity, I’ve discussed my worries with other Republicans whom I suspect of being boho-cons. This is a furtive matter, for if New York is the place where gays are out and Republicans are in the closet, within the N.Y.-D.C. right-wing-media world, it’s the bohos who are closeted.”


There’s something really wrong with Larry Rohter writing about movies now in the New York Times. He was one of the paper’s South American reporters for years. So again, a classic vicarious ex-pat, I guess. His Sunday piece, “Hollywood Ignores East-West Exchange” is nominally about the lack of whatever fill-in-the-blank in Hollywood:

“But why isn’t the United States also part of that same emerging global cinematic conversation? Why isn’t Hollywood also making movies that grapple with the issues that are provoking filmmakers elsewhere? And when Arab and Muslim characters do appear on screen, why are they presented in such simplistic and stereotyped ways? It’s not that Hollywood hasn’t made films set in the Islamic world. The Hurt Locker even won the Oscar for best picture last year, and Syriana, which won George Clooney an Oscar, and Three Kings, also featuring Mr. Clooney, along with Brian de Palma’s Redacted, also take place in the contemporary Middle East. But in such films the focus is on the Americans characters, whether soldiers, C.I.A. operatives or businessmen, rather than the society itself or the interaction of Americans with local people and their customs. ‘We see everything through American eyes, without context or a representation of community’ on the Islamic side, said Matthew Bernstein, an editor of the book Visions of the East: Orientalism in Film and chairman of the film and media studies department at Emory University in Atlanta.”

What are “American eyes”? Are American films so popular around the world they must be restricted by quota because of advertising or marketing muscle or car crashes? No, they are popular because American eyes are as close to being universal eyes as is possible. America isn’t just another race-nation stuck in a history that is a thousand years of voiceless swallowed injustice. You’d think someone who’d been in Latin America which has had so much trouble escaping its Iberian weight might appreciate that. Stephen Holden’s recent review of Patricio Guzman’s Nostalgia for the Light falls for it as does Rohter in his feature on the Guzman retropective going on in Brooklyn. Nobody wallows in the fake metaphysics like a old materialist. The millions killed by Stalin or crushed by Castro thrill him, but let a Pinochet stop the march of inevitability and the 3,000 materialists killed become martyrs to beat blood from a rock. Maybe Holden and Rohter had a good cry, but more foreigners probably find the Saw films more culturally relevant to the intractability of their situations. Charles McGrath writes about the two Australian knuckleheads who came up with the franchise elsewhere in the Times. Those films have deeper materialism and deeper metaphysics than any film attempt at an Allende blues. Marxists use emotions like they used bourgeois democracy. They used to admit it but they’re in their decadent phase now.

Elsewhere in his Sunday piece Rohter claims that stories are harder to come by. He must not quite be back in-country because America, the United States in particular, is nothing but stories! We’re still a nation of immigrants. What are immigrants? They are walking talking stories. If there’s a relative increase in stories overseas its only because the old feudal stases are melting as those cultures dare to incorporate what they’ve learned from us here, and I don’t mean film grammar. There was one such story just today in his same paper by more of his colleagues, Kirk Semple and Jeffrey Singer, “Bus Crash in the Bronx Ends a Man’s Fight for His Family”, though perhaps he’d credit Mao with it:

“Mr. Wang struggled not only with work but also with love. As his friends successfully found mates, married and started families, Mr. Wang, a thin man with close-set eyes and a crop of thick black hair, met failure. His sister blamed the family’s economic straits.

‘Nobody wanted to pick him,’ she said. ‘Which girl would want to marry into poverty?’

When he was about 30 — old to be a bachelor by the standards of his village — he married Lin Yaofang and they had a baby, a girl. When Ms. Lin became pregnant again, in violation of the country’s one-child policy, the authorities made her get an abortion, relatives and friends said. When word of her third pregnancy reached the government, he later told friends, officials went to their house to take Ms. Lin away, leading to Mr. Wang’s detention and beating. The account could not be verified with the Chinese authorities. His decision to try his luck in New York came quietly and suddenly.”

Read the whole thing if you have time. He was just one of the passengers on the bus crash. Superior storytelling from two continents.


Dave Kehr in NYT, "A Master’s Baby Steps".

“With time Naruse became a great poet of stoicism and quiet despair. His discreet pessimism is probably best summed up by a quotation frequently ascribed to him: ‘From the youngest age I have thought that the world we live in betrays us; this thought still remains with me.’ His protagonists, almost always women, are trapped by their emotions and, because of the love they feel for less-worthy partners, confined to lives of self-sacrifice and unending disappointment. The repeated image of the bar hostess Keiko (Hideko Takamine) climbing the stairs to her tiny establishment in the Ginza district of Tokyo in When a Woman Ascends the Stairs becomes a devastating representation of courage and determination operating only on the fumes of feelings long since betrayed.

These sentiments are present in his early films, but in latent form. What’s most striking about Flunky, Work Hard (1931), Naruse’s earliest surviving film, is how brash and jaunty much of it feels and how freewheeling its camerawork is. With some adjustments in costuming, it could pass for one of the Charley Chase two-reel comedies that Hal Roach was producing in America around the same time (a sense perhaps exaggerated by the accelerated pacing of the only available print, a 28-minute version, edited down for the home market from an original that was probably twice as long).”


Richard Brody on Stars In My Crown (1950, Jacques Tourneur / Joel McCrea)

“In his book on Tourneur, a French-born director who made his career in Hollywood, Chris Fujiwara relates a remarkable anecdote about the film:

His involvement in the project began when his friend Joel McCrea, who had been cast in the film, gave him the novel (by Joe David Brown) on which it was based. Tourneur ‘fell in love’ with the book and set about trying to get the assignment to direct it.

Studio executives told him that it was a B-movie and that it would be directed by a low-salaried director. Tourneur volunteered to do it for free. He ended up getting paid scale, and found himself bumped down to a lower salary bracket for the rest of his feature-film career. Tourneur was an ace of many genres, including Westerns and films noirs. He began his career in France in 1931; went to Hollywood in the mid-thirties, where he made twenty-four features between 1942 and 1959; and got started with television in the mid-fifties, directing episodes for many series, including ‘Bonanza’ and ‘The Twilight Zone.’ His most heralded early work was the pair of films he made for Val Lewton’s remarkable little studio, The Cat People and I Walked with a Zombie, and it is the latter film in particular, with its metaphysical dimension and its look at race relations, that foreshadows this great 1950 drama.”


“5 Japanese Divas” at Film Forum April 1 - 21

“In the Golden Age of Japanese Cinema, even as male stars like Toshiro Mifune flourished, its greatest strength was in an astonishing array of female icons, great actresses as well as superstars: in a career that spanned over 40 years, Kinuyo Tanaka (1909-1977) suffered for Mizoguchi 15 times, gun-molled for Ozu early and got laughs for him late, eventually becoming everyone’s favorite aunt; Isuzu Yamada (born 1917) vaulted to stardom in her teens before playing a series of powerful, dominant parts, topped by her legendary ‘Lady Macbeth’; former dancer Machiko Kyo (born 1924) became internationally famous in Rashomon, then was glorified in LIFE, co-starred with Brando, and grew in screen sexiness into her 50s; Setsuko Hara (born 1920), the beloved ‘Virgin Star,’ personified Miss Japan as the perfect daughter, sister, daughter-in-law, even mother for Ozu, while displaying Dostoyevskian range for Kurosawa; while Hideko Takamine (1924-2010), who died this past December 28, graduated from being Japan’s Shirley Temple into the tightly wound, unconquered Naruse heroine, even attaining the ultimate: a full-blown New Yorker profile. The series features films by Kenji Mizoguchi, Yasujiro Ozu, Mikio Naruse, Hiroshi Teshigahara, Keisuke Kinoshita, and Akira Kurosawa – directors with whom these actresses were most associated.”


“Janus Series”, Walter Reade

• Thu. Mar 31:
Ivan the Terrible Part I (1944, Sergei Eisenstein / Nikolai Cherkasov)
Ivan the Terrible Part II (1958)

• Fri. Apr 1:
Cria Cuervos (1976, Carlos Saura / Geraldine Chaplin, Ana Torent)
The Spirit of the Beehive (1973, Victor Erice / Ana Torent)

Image: The Spirit of the Beehive


Loophole (1954, Harold Shuster / Barry Sullivan, Charles McGraw, Dorothy Malone)
Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1950, Gordon Douglas / James Cagney, Barbara Payton)
• Sat. Apr. 9, American Cinematheque, Hollywood.


When Movies Mattered, by Dave Kehr (Univ. of Chicago)

Finally his Chicago Reader film writing from 1970s is anthologized.

Film series at Museum of the Moving Image, Astoria


Steven Zeitchik at latimes.com, "Is the great auteur-superhero experiment grinding to a halt?"


Jay Babcock interview in Portland Mercury.

“Mercury: What do you plan on doing next?

Jay: I'm finishing work on a book on the San Francisco Diggers, which my literary agent will be shopping to publishers shortly. My girlfriend and I are putting in an enclosed vegetable garden today at our home in Joshua Tree, California, near our outdoor shower and compost toilet. And, I am at work on a new magazine/app concept that is appropriate to the time and place that we live in — one that I can't believe nobody else is doing. This time, I'll get the business set up correctly, right from the start. I've learned my lesson(s)!”


Saint Vitus first American tour since the pleistocene.
March - April dates.


Meat Puppets at SxSW
Four tunes and an interview; go directly to the 11 minute “Lake of Fire”.


Toiling Midgets, Ants and Orchids
• Sat. March 26
OmniCircus, San Francisco


“Please Kill Me”, the play.
• March 26, Theatre de la bastille, Paris.

I don’t think Bono is involved with this one.


Ana Campoy in WSJ, "Houston’s Rodeo Cowboys Are Ridin’, Ropin’ and Wine Sippin’".

“The most contentious update: For its grand finale on Sunday , the Houston rodeo is scrapping several events that make some city slickers queasy, such as calf roping and steer wrestling. That was the last straw for the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, which for the first time in more than 50 years refused to put its name behind the Houston show. That means points earned by participating cowboys won't count toward qualification for the national final.”


Harvey Araton in NYT, "Fantasy Fanfare For the Common Man".

“These post-trade records are bound to even out some, but the Nuggets wasted little time in crowing about ‘playing the right way’ and being rid of ‘sticky fingers’ and making a full-blown ‘commitment to defense.’ Meanwhile, after a 119-117 loss to Indiana on Tuesday, Anthony sniped at his teammate Jared Jeffries and questioned Coach Mike D’Antoni’s defensive schemes. During a defeat to the Pistons in Auburn Hills, Mich., Friday night, Anthony shot miserably, 2 for 12, looked distracted and annoyed with teammates and fans and blew off the news media afterward. Fourteen games into his instantly acclaimed Knicks career, these were disturbing signs if not yet a trend. Conversely, has there ever been a team as joyful as Denver has been in the aftermath of being stripped of its leading man? Impressive, the consensus voice of N.B.A. wisdom would argue. But in this league, those who command the maximum salaries — in this case Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire — inevitably have the last laugh.”


Jared Diamond in WSJ, "Using Math to Determine the Ballhogs".

“Even the casual fan knows the NBA is full of chuckers—those frustrating players who hoist up fade-away jumpers in the face of a double-team. But with the help of advanced math, we can finally pinpoint the greatest offenders. Matt Goldman, a graduate student at the University of California, San Diego, and Justin Rao, a research scientist at Yahoo Labs, have identified the three biggest ‘overshooters’ in the NBA: the Thunder's Russell Westbrook, the Bobcats' Tyrus Thomas and the Lakers' Lamar Odom. Conversely, they named the Hornets' Chris Paul the biggest ‘undershooter.’”


Blair Kamen in CT, "The mystery of the clock that never was at Carsons".

“What we do know is that the sketches bear the stamp of the Winslow Bros. Co., which typically fabricated Sullivan’s ornamental ironwork. And they are dated June 5, 1906, indicating that the proposed clock might have been a weapon in a turn-of-the-century version of ‘Store Wars’ — Carsons versus Marshall Field’s. In 1897, Field’s erected an immense clock at the corner of its building at Washington and State streets. The clock projected several feet clear of the building and was lit from within, drawing further attention to the timepiece and its store. By 1906, when the sketches were made, Field's was well on its way to completing its palatial, D.H. Burnham & Co.-designed State Street store. The present pair of Marshall Field’s clocks were designed in 1906 and were installed at the store, now a Macy’s, in 1907. Miller’s take: Carsons didn’t want to get out-clocked by Field’s. ‘You can’t help but feel that there was the desire to have a landmark clock of equal beauty in front of Carson Pirie Scott,’ he said. But Sullivan also could have initiated the clock design, Miller speculates. The architect had designed the store for its original owners, Schlesinger and Mayer, but the rival Burnham firm had finished an addition in 1906. The clock could have been Sullivan’s way of nudging Burnham aside and winning the favor of the new owner. We’ll likely never know.”


Gerry Smith in CT, Who speaks for the dead at O’Hare cemetery?

“The process of relocating the dead is causing anguish as members of extended families who don't always know one another find themselves laying claim to the same ancestors in the 161-year-old cemetery. In some cases, relatives say, the city is withholding from them the identities of family members who make the relocation plans. Critics say this can spark confusion as well as fear that they will never learn the new location of their ancestors' final resting place. City officials say they have worked with family members and the church to locate next of kin and made every effort to do genealogical searches, including hiring a board-certified genealogist to analyze original German church baptism, marriage and death records dating to the mid-1800s. Complicating matters further is the fact that relatives must also get approval from another agency — the Illinois Department of Public Health issues permits for disinterments, Chicago Department of Aviation spokeswoman Eve Rodriguez said.”


Obituaries of the Week

Pinetop Perkins (1913 - 2011)

“‘I don't read music; it looks like dog droppings to me,’ he told the Tribune in 1998. But Perkins learned about blues in the best — and the toughest — way possible: Immersed in the culture that produced it. Having taught himself guitar at age 10 and the piano a few years later, Joe Willie Perkins had plenty of musical inspiration to draw upon: He absorbed field hollers picking cotton and learned blues licks playing the juke joints of the Mississippi Delta, the mythic birthplace of the art form. The tragedy — and turning point — in his musical life occurred in 1942, when an angry woman mistakenly blamed him for an offense her husband had committed and swung a blade at him. ‘It was a freak accident,’ Perkins told the Tribune. ‘When she did that, I just said, 'Well, you just cut me out of my career, that's all I can say.' It was hard to start over. It was kind of rough, but I just figured out playing the piano the best way I could.’ Indeed, he played piano with harmonica master Sonny Boy Williamson on the iconic ‘King Biscuit Time’ radio show and with B.B. King in Memphis. His caliber of keyboard brilliance had not often been encountered in blues, his early 1950s recording of Clarence ‘Pinetop’ Smith's showpiece ‘Pinetop's Boogie Woogie’ establishing his reputation and giving him his famous nickname. By then he had moved to the South Side of Chicago, part of a Great Migration of blues artists such as Roebuck ‘Pops’ Staples and David ‘Honeyboy’ Edwards who re-imagined and electrified the art form for an urban audience. Generations of musicians learned and modeled their art on Perkins, including no less than Ike Turner. ‘Pinetop would be the birth of rock 'n' roll, because he taught me what I played,’ Turner told the Tribune in 2004. For all of Perkins' influence and experience, he didn't cut his first recordings under his own name until the late 1980s, including a contribution to ‘Living Chicago Blues, Vol. 2’ (Alligator).”

Ralph Mooney (1928 - 2011)

“Mooney was part of the studio band that played on most of Buck Owens' earliest hits. He came up with the sharp, snappy opening notes of "Under Your Spell Again," "Above and Beyond," "Excuse Me (I Think I've Got a Heartache)" "Foolin' Around" and other hits that helped put Owens repeatedly into the Top 10 of the country singles chart in the late '50s and early '60s. Once Owens had formed his band, the Buckaroos, which would back him live and in the studio for most of his career, Mooney contributed key melodic ideas and support on hits for Merle Haggard, including "Swinging Doors," "Sing Me Back Home" and "The Bottle Let Me Down," as well as other California-based country stars such as [Wynn] Stewart, Rose Maddox and Bonnie Owens. He wasn't limited to West Coast country community, and also played behind Wanda Jackson, Donna Fargo and Jessi Colter, Jennings' wife. "He played with a real bright, animated sound with lots of picking, but he could take off into blues licks at the same time," Michael McCall, writer-editor at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville said Monday. "Nobody ever played quite like he did, and after that it became known as 'the Mooney sound.' When anyone brought up what he did with Buck and Merle, Ralph would say 'I always call myself Wynn Stewart's steel player, because he was first.'" Mooney was born Sept. 16, 1928, in Duncan, Okla., and moved west as a boy to live with one of his sisters in California. He learned to play guitar, mandolin, fiddle and a flat-top guitar using a knife for a slide. Later, he built his own steel guitar with a design that influenced the instruments that came out of electric-guitar innovator Leo Fender's factory in Fullerton.”

Daniel Bell (1919 - 2011), by Mark Lilla.

“Dan once developed this idea in a masterful essay on the Marxist writer Georg Lukacs, one of the best things he ever wrote. For him, Lukacs was an exemplary twentieth-century figure: a well-off Budapest Jew and Nietzchean aesthete who joined the Communist Party in 1918.… he never lost his faith in communism, telling an interviewer just before his death… that ‘even the worst socialism is better than the best capitalism.’ this was in 1971, when the New Left was just discovering Lukacs‘s works and elevating him to the office of prophet. Dan found nothing surprising in that turn. ‘The secret of Lukacs‘s appeal to the Western intelligentsia,’ he wrote ‘is the concealed history of heresy, the repudiation of common sense and conventional morality, and the creation of an esoteric doctrine and a Gnostic faith for an inner elite.’ Besides, ‘what mystagogue is not also a military commander in his dreams?’ It‘s impossible for me to calculate how much I owe Dan, but these particular lessons stand out. I learned that what converts seek in faith is warmth, not light, and that when scales fall from eyes, harder, more opaque ones grow back in. I learned that an epiphany is not an argument, it is a license, usually to destroy.”


Thanks to Jane Schuman, Ben Hanna, Steve Beeho.

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• Joe Carducci, Chris Collins, James Fotopoulos, Mike Vann Gray, David Lightbourne
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